Wednesday - 03 September 2014

Trade call for viable solution to ivory issue

11 March 2014Written by Ivan Macquisten

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 increased rarity.

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."

Ivory Warning

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, over ivory.

"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 elephants."

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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