Leading specialists in the trade are actively seeking a solution that supports the ban on ivory without destroying valuable artefacts created often hundreds of years ago.
Chinese and Japanese works of art specialist David Battie, a
high-profile expert of the BBC Antiques
Roadshow, has written to HRH Prince William, the Duke of
Cambridge, appealing for him not to continue calling for the
destruction of items containing ivory in the Royal Collection.
Meanwhile, in a letter to ATG this week, Kent-based conservator
Yannick Chastang, who oversaw the restoration of the Cucci cabinets
at Alnwick Castle, has put forward a proposal to protect elephants
and rhinos without cutting a swathe through our heritage.
Mr Chastang also fears that widespread destruction of historical
pieces containing ivory could actually encourage further poaching
as the black market value of remaining objects climbs through their
He has been trying, unsuccessfully, to conduct a dialogue with
DEFRA for the past decade on the subject and argues that there is a
solution that has not been considered so far.
"A complete ban on modern pieces should remain in place, and be
enforced further, but allowing the sale of proven and documented
antiques with an added tax going towards the protection of animals
in the wild might actually help the cause," he proposes.
"A tax on the sale of every item of antique ivory, similar to
the droit de suite tax, would certainly raise a lot of money and
slow down the market. This money could go towards additional game
wardens, to educative outreach programmes and to lobbying more
countries to join the effort…. There are a lot of areas that need
working on and money is needed if we are to make substantial
improvements in Africa and in countries where our Western
conscience is not yet shared."
Mr Battie, whose letter to Prince William is also reproduced in
this week's ATG printed newspaper, agrees that the trade in modern
ivory is "disgusting…and all right-thinking people should do their
utmost to put paid to it".
He also points out that as an auction house consultant, he
refuses any article that even comes close to the 1974 CITES cut-off
date, in practice adopting a pre-1914 barrier.
"If I record a piece to camera on the
BBC Antiques Roadshow I always preface or
include a warning against buying ivory, unless from a reliable
source, and reinforcing the message against the horrors of the
trade," he writes.
However, he says that he has "more than once crossed swords"
with his friend, the artist and wildlife campaigner David Shepherd,
"We gain some information from the human remains of earlier
societies; it is from their artistic creations that we can build up
a picture of their world - destroying their works of art erases
them from the historical record," he writes, adding: "I do not
think that this wholesale destruction would move the progress of
the campaign one iota."
Mr Battie further argues: "While one should not place the blame
on one country, it is no secret that China is almost entirely the
one at fault, with other countries doing their best to implement
CITES, at least as far as ivory is concerned. Could we expect China
to fall into line if the rest of the world destroyed all its ivory
works of art? I suspect there would be no more than a shrug and
enigmatic smile and we would not be any further forward. Actually,
we would be a lot further back."
Mr Chastang is also critical of existing UK policy: "Are we
planning to spend more money on protecting the elephant in the
wild? Are we trying to talk other countries into signing and
adhering to CITES? No we are not. What we are offering is not
constructive and will almost certainly not help the living
He and Mr Battie agree that "burning the art of our grandparents
is not the solution". And he adds: "Making our grandparents' art
pay for the future of our remaining wildlife just might be."
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