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It also states that “tough new restrictions on the UK ivory trade... cannot seriously be described as a threat to the survival of any auction house”.

The 48-page study titled Ivory: The Grey Areas, by pressure group Two Million Tusks (TMT), was published on October 19 – coinciding with the government’s consultation on a proposed ivory trade ban.

The study is based on a small sample of unnamed regional UK salerooms. In total, TMT made 127 enquiries about 180 lots offered for sale across 72 auction houses between November 2016 and February 2017.

Enquiries were made via email by four members of TMT who posed as interested buyers asking questions about dating and regulations. The lots were chosen because they were typically undated and did not appear to be of great age. Furniture and musical instruments with ivory were not included.

Proof of age

The report says only one in 10 auctioneers was able to meet Animal & Plant Health Agency’s criteria for ‘satisfactory proof of age’, leading to the report’s conclusion that knowledge and training on the subject is inadequate.

Just one-third (25) of the auctioneers sampled were members of either NAVA or SOFAA. The report said “there is a positive and noticeable difference in the response times, level of detail and clarity of information from trade association members compared to non-members”.

There were exceptions: the auctioneer who offered a raw tusk was a member of an association and one of three salerooms reported to the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

The report concludes by recommending a “fully enforceable ivory ban, implemented as soon as possible”.

A second part of the study seeks to show “how insignificant ivory sales are to many UK auction houses”. The report states that ivory objects represented less than 1% of lots sold by close to 300 UK auctioneers. It notes that most of the sampled lots (62%) sold for under £120.

Helen Carless, chairman of SOFAA, told ATG the association is “at one with TNT in wishing to see the illicit ivory trade extinguished and will be responding to the government’s consultation”.

Colin Young, president of NAVA Propertymark and managing director of Golding Young & Mawer, said: “During this period of government consultation, it is important to remain professional, being engaged directly within the set process and make the appropriate representations and submissions in the correct manner.”