New Zealand government bans English expat from tinkling the ivories

A British university professor who relocated to New Zealand was horrified to discover the ivory keys on his antique piano will be buried by the country’s Department of Conservation (DoC).

Julian Paton bought the 123-year-old piano for his wife as a birthday present and his two children began to have lessons on it while they still lived in England. When Paton and his family moved to Auckland in 2017, the piano was seized by the New Zealand government in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Last Thursday, the DoC stripped the piano of its keys as it deemed them to be in contravention of the country’s ivory laws. The keys will be buried and Paton has been ordered to pay the cost of removing the ivory and collecting the piano together with a third administrative fee.

According to CITES, owners of antique ivory can seek an exemption from the rules by applying for an export permit. While Paton sought guidance from a piano expert in England who submitted a report to New Zealand’s immigration authorities prior to exporting the item, Paton did not obtain the necessary permit. “We went out of our way to make sure we could legally import the piano to New Zealand”, Paton insisted, “We absolutely deny any wrongdoing whatsoever“.

New Zealand’s staunch adherence to CITES reflects growing global concern over the illegal ivory trade. The UK government is introducing new legislation to prohibit dealing in ivory items of all ages, not simply those carved after 1947, as the current law provides.

Sponsored by Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, the Ivory Bill 2017-19 is currently on its way through the House of Lords. Upon announcing the Bill, Gove stated it “will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past.”

In a campaign to save his piano, Paton enlisted the help of his local MP, David Seymour, who accused the DoC of “vandalism”. “I’m embarrassed as a New Zealander and as a local MP that this is how we welcome people, by confiscating their family heirlooms so their kids can’t play piano,” Seymour said.

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