New rules governing trade in the parts of endangered species will hit the antiques trade harder than first thought.
With the Wildlife Licensing &
Registration Service refusing to issue licences, the sale of many
objects incorporating old elephant ivory and tiger claws is now
As reported in ATG last
month, new European Commission guidance on the application of
the "worked specimens" derogation - that has traditionally exempted
most antiques from controls on the trade in endangered species -
was quietly issued to CITES Management Authorities on May 9.
Although no trade bodies were alerted, the
changes amounted to a fresh interpretation of the law and a volte
face on a raft of items previously considered "worked".
According to the new interpretation of the
law, EC certificates (commonly known as Article 10 licences) are
now required when selling whole marine turtle shells, the horns or
antlers and skull plates of CITES-listed species, swordfish and
sawfish rostrums, narwhal tusks and sperm whale teeth. The
certification process is undertaken by the Wildlife Licensing &
Registration Service in Bristol (SSC Bristol) at a current cost of
£31 per item per transaction, although charges are scheduled to
increase to £68 by 2015.
But while, subject to the usual pre-1947
conditions, licences for these CITES-listed species will be issued,
items incorporating whole or sections of elephant tusks are more
The definition of what constitutes worked
elephant ivory has changed significantly under the new rules. For
tusks or sections of tusks to be considered worked they now need to
be fully carved or shaped into a new form such as a paper turner.
Even when tusks are polished and permanently mounted as part of a
decorative or functional object they no longer qualify as
As written, the new guidance does appear to
allow these items to be traded - it lists items such as the
elephant ivory dinner gong among objects that "require an EC
certificate before they can be used commercially".
However, in practice, as part of their
programme of "stricter domestic measures", UK CITES Management
Authorities will refuse applications for Article 10 certification
on any item of elephant ivory unless it is deemed to have been
worked. It brings the rules regarding the trade in old elephant
ivory closer in line with those for rhino horn, which since 2010
have been subject to a growing series of measures designed to stem
black market trade.
Antiques including tiger parts are also
subject to 'stricter measures'. Although it remains perfectly legal
to own such items, tiger claw jewellery or objects of vertu mounted
in silver or gold will not be given licences for sale, while the
advice is now that a tiger skin, with or without a head, will not
be considered "worked" unless it is tanned and lined.
Following the changes, 'problem' objects
have been withdrawn from sales and auction storerooms across the
country - but violations continue through ignorance. Under the new
rules items such as the silver and elephant tusk centrepiece by
Walker & Hall, Sheffield, 1928, (estimate £4000-5000) withdrawn
from Bonhams' silver sale on June 19, or the tiger claw gold brooch
and earrings (estimate £100-200) pulled from Sworders' sale on June
25 have no legal commercial value.
Kim McDonald, whose company Taxidermy Law
provides consultancy work to more than 30 of the UK's auction
houses, believes that an attempt to remove grey areas surrounding
the worked derogation has simply created more. Among the first
industry figures to find out about the new measures (on May 30), he
has written to DEFRA requesting some clarification on a number of
the new rules including the stipulation that tusks or sections of
tusks will only be considered worked if they are fully carved
across 'the whole surface'.
"Until we have clarification nobody knows
where we stand," he told ATG.
Chris Auger, office manager at SSC Bristol, told ATG on July 4:
"We are meeting with our policy advisors in DEFRA next week to
discuss the consequences of the new guidance in respect of pre-1947
specimens which are now considered unworked, and will be in touch
once a way forward has been agreed."