So I guess there are millions of people who have one or more pieces of ivory in their house. Items that may have been handed down through the generations, picked up at boot sales, be part of a collection – who knows. The question is what to do with them and what to do with antique ivory that has been acquired pre-1947 (the cut-off date whereby ivory is recognised as being antique in the UK)
On the BBC’s Antique Roadshow on 19th October, I debated this with Marjorie Trusted of the V&A Museum and Antique Roadshow’s host, Fiona Bruce. Marjorie Trusted was concerned about the very notion of destroying antique ivory. I, on the other hand, am more concerned about perpetuating the monetary value attached to ivory. On the same show, one of the experts on the team valued an ivory goblet depicting Black Forest scenes with deer and grapes, at around £10,000 or more. That in itself, in my view, exemplified the problem and the incentive to collect, to trade ivory and the antiques of tomorrow are the potential carvings of today. So my position is very clear: if an expert from the Museum and antiquity world can verify that a particular item has overwhelming artistic and historical merit such that it represents part of a past culture, then as long as that item is held on behalf of the public in a museum or other facility and is not traded or sold (it can, of course, be moved from museum to museum by way of a loan) then I accept that we cannot airbrush out history but what I cannot agree to is that all carved ivory items are of some real value and that there should be a commercial trade in them.
The world is awash with junk ivory carvings! Elephants are being eradicated from their remaining strongholds at the rate of between 30,000 – 50,000 a year. The ivory trade will lead to the extinction of elephants across most of their existing range within a matter of a few years and we must take bold, decisive actions now to prevent that happening.
We must provide, – we, the wealthy affluent West who have largely eradicated most of our large mega-vertebrates – the resources to support the African Elephant Action Plan, a blue-print for elephant conservation, drawn-up and agreed to by all 36 African elephant range States – the countries where Africa’s elephants still live.
For £100 million (compare that to the estimated £50 billion cost estimate of the High-Speed 2 rail link between London and Birmingham which will shave 20 minutes off the journey time) we can make a difference in the field where it counts.
We don’t need to suppress demand, we need to eliminate demand and the single most effective measure I can think of is for the Chinese Premier to sign into law measures to close the current legal domestic ivory markets in China and dramatically hasten the end all trade in ivory.
We have to accept our own responsibilities in this matter and end all sales of ivory internally in our own countries – no more car boot sales with ivory; no more ivory on the internet; and no more so-called antiques. Only items of genuine historical or antique merit may be retained for public education purposes in non-commercial facilities.
And finally, we need the world, as a whole, to pay attention to what is happening not just to elephants but to all of our precious bio-diversity. A recent report by WWF indicated that 52% of wildlife has disappeared between 1970 and 2010. At that rate there will be precious little left for my children, your children and future generations to appreciate, respect and to be inspired by.
We have reached a tipping point. The so-called sustainable use agenda where we potentially use wildlife and wildlife resources in a way that allows us to make commercial gains to conserve the species, has run out of steam. There are simply too many of us and too few of ‘them’ to allow such a flawed concept to continue. We need to conserve and protect biodiversity and species because they need us and we need them and because without those natural eco-systems on which we mutually depend, we jeopardise our own future - not because we can make money out of them.
I know there will be people who fundamentally disagree with me. That is their right. But I think we have no choice but to refashion our relationship with the natural world so that there will be wild animals and wild places long into the future.
PS Sign our petition at www.bloodyivory.org