It is a falsehood that in Western markets the sale of antique carved ivory increases new acts of smuggling and elephant poaching.

As a result of poaching the plight of the African elephant has reached critical status and a small number of countries have added their own restrictions on domestic and international trade in ivory to those arising from CITES. Wildlife campaigners have called for a total ban on the trade of antique ivory, arguing that it masks the illicit trade in modern poached ivory, although evidence of this is hard to find.

As representatives of the international art and antiques market, we should make it clear that we abhor the poaching of elephants and other wildlife, whether for ivory or other purposes.

CINOA believes that an ability to protect wildlife does not depend on a ban on the commercial trade in antique ivory items. Let us not forget that the ivory trade is already heavily restricted, with a complete ban on international trade in unworked ivory and tusks. There has been no evidence that there is a link between antique worked ivory and recent poaching, particularly not in Western countries. Contrary to claims that antique ivory is ground down for ‘medical purposes’, this is not the case because antique ivory is too dry and often discolored due to its age.

Ivory has been used as a natural material for creating art, artistic objects and a myriad of useful items from tools to furnishings for thousands of years. A ban on the antique ivory trade would constitute a modern form of iconoclasm, consigning a wider knowledge and appreciation of the way our ancestors lived to an oblivion that a limited number of museum exhibits would not mitigate.

A ban would eventually render the promotion and display of ivory in any form as socially unacceptable, with even museums coming under pressure to remove exhibits to storage or to dispose of them. Unwanted carved antiques of cultural significance, which happen to incorporate ivory, could potentially be lost or destroyed.

There is no doubt that without a reasonable exchange in artistic and cultural objects historically fashioned from or containing ivory (and presenting no danger to living wildlife), the ability of mankind to study and understand his own identity and history over the centuries will be severely restricted.  

For a more in depth discussion, we refer you to the following papers: