The antiques industry has a hard task on its hands. You couldn’t conclude otherwise after sitting through ATG's round table on a way forward for the trade in ivory antiques (see this week’s paper, No 2252, published Tuesday 26 July).
It was, at times, a tense discussion. True, we had grasped the nettle by inviting Action for Elephants campaigners into the room. Why? We wanted to test the perceived role of ivory-based antiques in fuelling demand for modern ivory. Our motivation: we must know the case being made against antique ivory objects.
That case made uncomfortable hearing. Campaigners Louise Ravula and Jane Alexandra have a noble cause – trying to stop the threatened extinction of the African elephant – and were articulate and passionate.
They also came armed with statistics: some cannot be ignored, others are open to question. For one thing, there was little evidence produced of a real link between modern poaching and antique ivory.
“At least now we know what we’re up against,” sighed one antiques industry player as we left the room.
So, what needs to be done?
1. Show we care about the fate of the elephant
As our business is sometimes cast as uncaring about the poaching issue, this perception must not go unchallenged.
The antiques industry – a broad church that spans the occasional stall holder to the TEFAF exhibitor – needs to be upfront in its abhorrence of modern poaching and the potential demise of the elephant population.
2. Know the CITES rules
It's clear too that in the face of such a grave issue, the industry can ill afford to make mistakes. Handlers of ivory antiques must be drilled in the CITES rule handbook.
Most of the transgressions are, as solicitor Andrew Banks pointed out, “honest” ones but they contribute to the perception that the trade is at best inept and at worst, somehow complicit. Depressingly, the campaigners at our round table held the latter view.
3. Engage with campaigners
Finally we need to engage with campaigners like Louise and Jane, though their views may seem diametrically opposed to our own. In May, directors of Woolley & Wallis reached out to Action for Elephants protesters outside their Salisbury saleroom to explain why our sector deals in antique ivory objects.
Back at the round table, Louise made the point that the clock is ticking on the African elephant.
But with the US pushing for a global ban on trade in ivory at the CITES conference in September, the clock is also ticking on ivory-based antiques.