Not for Sale: Ivory Antiques

Monday 17 August 2020 was a monumental day for elephants, as the Supreme Court refused to accept an appeal to overturn the UK Ivory Act after a protracted legal challenge brought by a small group of UK-based ivory antique traders.

Fewer than 450,000 elephants remain across Africa, with as many as 30,000 brutally slaughtered each year for their tusks. At the expense of the elephant’s life, its precious ivory is then smuggled to the Far East and defaced into trinkets.

“After suffering long delays due to a small group, insisting on putting their commercial interests before the survival of a species we are delighted to hear that the Supreme Court has rejected any further appeal,” says Georgina Lamb, DSWF’s Chief Executive.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s (DSWF) has worked alongside our conservation colleagues over the years to push for a comprehensive UK ivory ban and has called on governments around the world to close their domestic ivory markets in order to save the elephant.

While this is an important milestone in finally moving forward with implementing the UK Ivory Act , there is still a long road ahead as the world’s most iconic mega-fauna is still being poached at alarming rates as demand for ivory remains alive and well.

Ivory antique markets are still operational and legal in Asia, Europe and other parts of the world, providing legal loophole for more sinister activities and illegal ivory trafficking, which is pushing elephants to the brink of extinction.

History of the UK Ivory Act

In 2018, in what can only be described as a hallmark moment in elephant conservation, with overwhelming popular support, the UK Ivory Act was passed – banning the sale of ivory antiques.

Despite cross-party parliamentary backing, the Act has been continuously challenged by, Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures (FACT), a small group of ivory antique traders conducting business with the Far East.

What are ivory antiques?

While the international trade of ivory is illegal and the harvesting of new ivory stockpiles is also fortunately banned, some states allow for the domestic trade in ivory.

Antique palm-leaf fans, ornaments, gavels, and chess boards were all common objects made from the tusks of slain elephants in a bygone time, arguable the most well-known ivory object would be piano keys. While most countries no longer use ivory to make piano keys there is an ongoing demand in Asia for ivory. DSWF believes that no antique holds a higher value than the life of an elephant.

Ivory Markets

Ivory, sometimes referred to as ‘white gold’ because of the high prices it fetches, is popular amongst a rapidly growing middle/upper class in Asian economies. For decades, ivory ornaments have been regarded as a status symbol and a sign of wealth in many Asian countries.

Why is the trade of antique ivory bad?

Legal trade provides a cover for the illegal ivory trade which is driving up demand and therefore the poaching of elephants to sustain this. Any legal antique ivory can act as a cover for smuggling newly poached ivory into domestic markets or onto the illegal black market which is hard to easily identify and determine.

In addition to this, by keeping the legal trade of ivory antiques open you are enabling demand and encouraging the belief that ivory holds a commercial value.

DSWF is working to reduce the demand for ivory in Asia through campaigns, policy work and education and awareness initiatives.

You can support our critical work to save elephants and other endangered wildlife that are victims of the illegal wildlife trade, by donating to DSWF today.