Wednesday, 28 May 2014

London Calling | The royal ivory dispute: confusing a madness with a mission


Since the ivory was banned by any open sale in 1989, there is an ongoing discussion revived in the UK over the past weeks on the ethics of using/owning of artworks made on ivory of elephants, especially due to Prince Willliam resolve to support the claim that all ivory -in His case, the ones in the hold of the royal collection to be destroyed. Before overthrowing these statements as absolute absurdity, we may wist to look upon the facts of this international dread trade. 

The African elephant was placed on appendix in January 1990. Many African countries have claimed their elephant populations are stable or increasing, and argued that ivory sales would support their conservation efforts. Other African countries oppose this position, stating that renewed ivory trading puts their own elephant populations under greater threat from poachers reacting to demand. The  Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allowed the sale of 49 tonnes of ivory from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana in 1997 to Japan. In 2007 eBay, under pressure from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, banned all international sales of elephant-ivory products. The decision came after several mass slaughters of African elephants, most notably the 2006 Zakouma elephant slaughter in Chad. The IFAW found that up to 90% of the elephant-ivory transactions on eBay violated their own wildlife policies and could potentially be illegal. In October 2008, eBay expanded the ban, disallowing any sales of ivory on eBay.  A more recent sale in 2008 of 108 tonnes from the three countries and South Africa took place to Japan and China. The inclusion of China as an "approved" importing country created enormous controversy, despite being supported by CITES, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Traffic. They argued that China had controls in place and the sale might depress prices. However, the price of ivory in China hit the skies. Some believe this may be due to deliberate price fixing by those who bought the stockpile, echoing the warnings from the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society on price-fixing after sales to Japan in 1997, and monopoly given to traders who bought stockpiles from Burundi and Singapore in the 1980s. 

Despite arguments prevailing on the ivory trade for the last thirty years through CITES, there is one fact upon which virtually all informed parties now agree - poaching of African elephants for ivory is now seriously on the increase. The debate surrounding ivory trade has often been depicted as a  supress of Africa from the Western economies. However, in reality the southern Africans have always been in a minority within the African elephant range states. To reiterate this point, 19 African countries signed the "Accra Declaration" in 2006 calling for a total ivory trade ban, and 20 range states attended a meeting in Kenya calling for a 20-year moratorium in 2007. In Asia, wild elephant populations are now a fraction of what they were in historic times, and poaching of elephants continues. Elephants are now close to extinction in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.  Alternative sources would include the ivory tooth of a mammoth  Trade in the ivory from the tusks of dead mammoths has occurred for 300 years and continues to be legal. Mammoth ivory is used today to make handcrafted knives and similar implements. Mammoth ivory is rare and dear, but this trade does not threaten any living species.

It is both understandable and ethically sound to claim the ban of any trade of parts of animals, but the enraged call for the destruction of historical ivory artworks is totally insane, as it really calls for the destruction of a massive part of the world's heritage. ivory is murder. No one is defending the killing of animals for their tusks. It is foolish and unreasonable to abhor the wonderful masterpieces created by past generations with a technique we no longer feel right/approve of. No new ivory art must be made but no museum, dealer or collector should be inhibited in any way from circulating and showing the ivory art of the past. It is imperative to marginalize the Zealots, otherwise we will find ourselves destroying the Parthenon, the day when the marble of earth will cease to exist, or burning Moby Dick's books for praising whale hunting!


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