New Zealand Domestic Ivory Trade Doubles

Aug 20, 2019 | Commentary

By Fiona Gordon – Director of Gordon Consulting and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.

The meeting of Parties to the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva this week marks almost 3 years since CITES agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets contributing to poaching or illegal trade should be closed.

The historic decision stemmed from grave concerns over continued poaching of elephants for their ivory and the acknowledgement that legal domestic markets provide cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory. Concerns that remain the focus of discussions at CITES Conference of Parties over the next couple of days.

Fortunately, domestic ivory markets are steadily closing. The United States, France, China and the United Kingdom have now closed theirs and Hong Kong is set to follow suit in 2021. Last week Singapore announced it will also close its market – an announcement that came shortly after Singapore authorities made a record haul of 8.8 tonnes of illegal ivory seized in transit between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam.

Bucking this strong international trend however is New Zealand, whose domestic ivory trade remains devoid of any internal regulations and alarmingly appears to have increased dramatically since 2016. 

A recently completed 10 month survey of just two New Zealand auction houses found over 800 ivory items for sale, more than double the number found for sale at four New Zealand auction houses during a 9 month survey reported in 2016.

The number of auctions offering ivory for sale appears to have increased by 60 percent and at one New Zealand auction alone a swathe of ivory carvings disappeared out the door for around NZD $10,000 (USD $6,600).  A large proportion of the ivory items found for sale were entirely made of ivory, including carvings, okimonos and netsukes.

The observed increase in trade adds much weight to the calls of more than 40,000 people in support of campaigns led by the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand and African Wildlife Foundation asking the New Zealand government to shut its domestic ivory trade down.

“It is  very disturbing to learn of the steep increase in the amount of ivory for sale in New Zealand,” said Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former UNDP Administrator, Rt. Honourable Helen Clark,  “I support a ban on its sale along the lines introduced by the Government of the United Kingdom. New Zealand must not be a weak link in international efforts to curb the ivory trade which is responsible for the slaughter of elephants.”

Both auction houses surveyed are registered auctioneers under New Zealand’s Auctioneers Act 2013 which requires records to be maintained, including descriptions of property offered for sale.  Surprisingly, few of the catalogue descriptions for each of the ivory items offered for sale included statements, let alone any verifiable evidence, regarding their age or source.

Any assumption that all ivory on New Zealand’s domestic market must be antique, simply doesn’t hold true either. Two convictions for illegal trade involving thousands of dollars-worth of ivory have already illustrated how illegally imported ivory can easily be traded on New Zealand’s domestic market under the guise of legality.

Further, thousands of elephant ivory carvings, ivory pieces and tusks have been legally imported into New Zealand since the 1989 international trade ban for non-commercial purposes.  Over 60 per cent of these imported ivory items are noted as being sourced from the ‘wild’ or of ‘unknown’ source.  Most of this ivory arrives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some from Mozambique or it is re-exported from Great Britain and Australia.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation confirm that any ivory legally imported after the 1989 ban can legitimately be sold on New Zealand’s domestic market.   Even items specifically imported for non-commercial purposes have no restriction placed on their future sale.

 “There is no question that the domestic ivory markets in countries like New Zealand and elsewhere continue to fuel corruption and poor governance, plus the wanton killing of elephants in Africa,” says Kaddu Sebunya, Chief Executive Officer of African Wildlife Foundation.

“There isn’t enough ivory in the world to satisfy current demand”, says Sebunya, “so as long as a market exists for ivory, you can be sure that an elephant somewhere is dying to sustain it. Elephants need their ivory, and the world needs elephants. We, at African Wildlife Foundation, will continue to call for the closure of all ivory markets and to speak up for elephants, which need our protection today more than ever.”

With the reported increased activity on the domestic ivory market, no domestic trade regulations and two convictions for illegal trade in ivory, it remains difficult to see how New Zealand is implementing the CITES 2016 decision urging domestic ivory trade closures.

In a positive move, the New Zealand delegation to the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade made a formal commitment to “assess the need for regulation of New Zealand’s domestic ivory trade”

About the Author:

Fiona Gordon is a New Zealand based environmental policy analyst and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.  She has undertaken research into the international and domestic ivory trade since 2014. Fiona was principal researcher and co-author of the 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) “Under the Hammer” which provided the results of the first ever investigation into the nature of the auction house trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Australia and New Zealand.

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