Government confronts the elephant in the room with ivory ban plan

Art and antiques dealers warn treasured objects including Victorian pianos might be at risk if a total ban on the ivory trade is imposed in the United Kingdom.

Current legislation allows the sale of worked ivory items produced before 3 March 1947 as well as items produced after that date, which are accompanied by a certificate. Raw tusks of any age are completely banned from sale. Now the Government is conducting a 12-week consultation until 29 December 2017 on whether or not to roll out an outright ban on trading in worked ivory of all ages. Draft legislation on the ban could be ready as early as 2018.

Announcing the consultation, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the proposed ban would put the “UK front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory”. Gove explained that the driving force behind the proposals was the government’s concern over the widespread slaughter of elephants of which 20,000 are killed by poachers each year.

The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute“, the Environment Secretary added.

According to the government’s plans, the ban would include exemptions for the following items:
• Musical instruments
• Items with only a small proportion of ivory
• Items of significant historic, artistic or cultural value
• Sales between museums

Antiques sellers remain unconvinced that a blanket ban on the ivory trade will remedy the decline in the elephant population. “We feel strongly that an outright ban would be an over-reaction and would be very detrimental to the honest and legitimate trade of pre-1947 ivory“, Noelle McElhatton of the Antiques Trade Gazette said. In her view, extending the ban to historic objects such as Art Deco figures and Georgian chests of drawers “will not a save a single living elephant”.

In February 2017, the Duke of Cambridge sparked outcry from UK museums, historians and antiques experts after calling for a total ban on the ivory trade. Historian David Starkey despaired that the proposal represented “one of the largest threats to the preservation of Western decorative arts”.

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