19 July 2022

Is this the end for ivory?

By Lark Music

One of the toughest bans on elephant ivory sales is now in force. Many applaud the UK Government’s action, but how will this affect the music industry?

The Ivory Act 2018 finally came into full force on 6th June 2022, putting the UK at the forefront of global conservation.

This near-total ban on the buying and selling of goods containing elephant ivory could not come soon enough. There are a range of penalties for anyone found guilty of breaching the ban – up to five years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

Targeted for their tusks, the world’s elephant population continues to decline, and it is unthinkable to consider that the world’s largest land animals are threatened with extinction.

Sadly, the road to implementation of the act has been slow. Legal wrangles, issues as a consequence of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and additional consultations delayed the long-awaited legislation.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said:

“The Ivory Act coming into force represents a landmark moment in securing the survival of elephants across the globe for future generations. Thousands of elephants are unnecessarily and cruelly targeted for their ivory every year for financial gain. We are sending a clear message the commercial trade of elephant ivory is totally unacceptable.”

What are the main points of the ban?

The ban covers the import, export and dealing in ivory items of all ages, allowing only a small set of exemptions. It will now be illegal to deal in ivory items unless they have been registered or have an exemption certificate. Otherwise, anyone involved in arranging or facilitating an illegal sale, purchase or hire will be committing an offence.

What if I own an antique piece of furniture or a musical instrument containing ivory?

Importantly, if you are not planning to sell the item, there is no need to take any action. You can still keep it or display it for personal use, give it away as a gift, donate it or leave it to someone in your will. You can also lend it, provided no payment or exchange is involved.

Those who own an antique or a musical instrument containing ivory, who may be considering a future sale, must register or certify the item on the Government’s digital ivory service register or apply for an exemption certificate, required if the item is of outstanding artistic, cultural or historical value.

There is a non-refundable payment of £250 required to apply for an exemption certificate.

The cost of registering a single item under one of the standard exemptions is £20, while the cost of registering a group of three to 20 items is £50.

If you started a transaction before 6th June 2022, you have until 3rd July 2022 to complete it, without needing to register or apply for an exemption certificate.

The ivory service is hosted on the gov.uk website (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/declare-ivory-you-intend-to-sell-or-hire-out) and ensures anyone dealing in ivory can only do so if the item satisfies one of the five exemption criteria.

What are the exemptions for dealing in ivory?
  • Items made before 3rd March 1947, with less than 10% ivory by volume
  • Portrait miniatures made before 1918 with a surface area smaller than 320 sq cm
  • Items that a qualifying museum intends to buy or hire
  • Pre-1918 items which are of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value
  • Musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20% ivory by volume

Under all the exemptions, if any ivory has been added to an item after the relevant date (1918, 1947 or 1975) it must have been taken from the elephant before 1975 and added only for the purposes of restoration.

Check if your ivory items are a set

If you have, say, a teapot with an ivory knob that is part of a tea set or, perhaps, a dagger with an ivory handle that comes with a sheath, you can treat a set of objects as a single item if all of the objects were produced at the same time with the intention of being kept and used together and all of the objects being sold or hired out were part of the same original set.

Assessment of age

To assess the age of an ivory item, you need to demonstrate that it was made or existed before a certain date. You can do this with evidence of the item’s provenance, having its age verified by an expert or getting it radiocarbon dated, although you do not need to use all three of these methods to assess the age.

Examples of ivory percentage volume: Pianos, furniture, cutlery and chess sets
  • A standard piano with ivory keys would likely meet the ‘less than 20% volume’ condition for the musical instrument exemption. However, if the piano has any other ivory parts, it may not qualify so you need to measure and include all the ivory content in the assessment
  • A piece of furniture with a small amount of ivory inlay would likely meet the ‘less than 10% ivory by volume’ exemption
  • A piece of ivory-handled cutlery is unlikely to meet the ‘less than 10% ivory by volume’ exemption
  • A chess set containing ivory chess pieces is unlikely to meet the ‘less than 10% ivory by volume’ exemption
Check ivory is integral to your item

For standard exemption items made before 3rd March 1947 with less than 10% by volume, the item will only be exempt if all the ivory is integral. This means the ivory cannot be removed from the item without difficulty or without damaging the item.

An example is a detachable ivory knob from a measuring instrument while it would not include an ivory statue that has been temporarily mounted on a plinth.

Portrait miniatures: To assess the surface area, you should not include the frame or the part covered by the frame. You can consider an ivory frame to be a part of a portrait miniature, and register it as a single item, if it is integral to the portrait miniature and also pre-1918.

Exemption for qualifying museums

This exemption applies to selling or hiring ivory items to qualifying museums. The museum buying or hiring the item must be a member of the International Council of Museums or accredited by, or on behalf of, the Arts Council England, Scottish Ministers, Northern Ireland, the Museums Council and the Welsh Government. Visit the Arts Council’s list of Accredited Museums at artscouncil.org.uk

Race against time

There are only 415,000 African elephants left in the wild; the African forest elephant is critically endangered and African savanna elephant is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The Ivory Act is therefore a positive move to help protect elephants and stop the poaching illegal wildlife trade, although loss of habitat is another factor.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that the number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86% over the last 30 years, while the population of African savanna elephants decreased by more than 60% over the last half-century.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says it is estimated that around 20,000 elephants are still being slaughtered annually because of the global demand for ivory.

The World Wildlife Fund (worldwildlife.org) reports that although most of this ivory comes from poaching of African elephants, Asian elephants (tusked males) are also illegally hunted.

It is good to know that the Government is looking at extending the Ivory Act to other ivory-bearing species and will publish a response to the consultation later this year.