In the tradition of countries like Vietnam and Kenya, Melbourne will have its own ivory and rhino horn crush to push for a domestic trade ban of the endangered wildlife parts.
World Wildlife Day Melbourne Crush organisers, For the Love of Wildlife (FLOW), are campaigning for an urgent domestic ivory trade ban in Australia, claiming a ban is crucial to stem elephant and rhino poaching and set an example for Asian countries to follow.
This video shows a rhino mother and calf after the mother was shot and hacked by poachers. Video used with permission Rhino 911 with thanks David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation for air support
FLOW argues that Australia as a signatory to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) should close domestic trade as its regulation in this country is virtually non-existent. And no one is taking responsibility for it.
The group disagrees with the Australian government’s stance that the ivory and rhino horn trade is not a big issue for Australia. And FLOW provides a pretty convincing argument.
According to the FLOW team not only is the Australian regulatory system for the legal trade and the CITES system failing, but Australian borders are porous to newly poached ivory and rhino horn products.
Image: A white rhino in Skukuza Kruger National Park there have been 25 seizures of rhino horn on Australian borders 2010-2016. Photo by Michael Scott Smith
FLOW founder and director, Donalea Patman, can’t predict the size of the crush on March 3, but expects about 120 kg of ivory, possibly with some rhino horn. A spokesperson from the Department of Environment and Energy said they are contributing “approximately 100kg of raw unworked elephant ivory”. Customs and Melbourne Zoo have also indicated a commitment to release some seized ivory products for the event.
The organisers invite the public to surrender personal items at the crush in Bourke Street.
The crush is a tactic to get the public to support a domestic ban on the sale of ivory and rhino horn in Australia, no matter how old.
According to Patman most of the public think a ban is already in place, but it’s not. There is only a domestic trade ban for items that are post 1975. Nor does the public think that there is a strong demand for ivory in Australia, but there is.
A 2014-2015 study by IFAW illustrated a surprising demand on the home shores. Of 1033 lots comprising 2409 items auctioned by 17 auction houses in Australia 78 percent sold. The average lot went for over $800.
“The event on the third of March is to demonstrate that the Australian public want a ban,” Patman says.
“While the government is listening, they are yet to act. That’s why the celebrity line up is important.”
Patman has the support of an army of celebrities from entertainment and fashion, an ex Prime Minister, kings and queens of conservation and the former Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is the group’s patron.
Patman was the driving force behind Australia’s ground-breaking ban two years ago on the import of lion hunting trophies, following South Africa’s endorsement of canned lion hunting. It was a solid outcome with strong support inside parliament in the person of MP Jason Wood.
Ivory for Sale
The sale of pre-1975 or “pre-treaty” ivory in Australia is open for two main industries, auction houses and antique shops. Auction houses often provide statutory declarations and carbon dating certificates, the latter are expensive. Antique shops don’t provide any certification.
An antique shop owner, who sells ivory carvings, says there are no certificates for any of the 50 -100 ivory carvings for sale in his shop.
“No-one [in the antique business] has documentation for this. Documentation only exists in 10 percent of the cases,” says the shop owner, who wants to remain anonymous.
He says he won’t sell anything made of ivory unless its pre-1940s and a work of art. He says he has the expertise to identify a fake.
He wants an end to all hunting for ivory and rhino horn, but can’t see how stopping the sale of antiques is going to protect any living animal.
A New Zealand-based environmental policy analyst Fiona Gordon says the system as it stands is too easy to exploit.
“There are no regulations governing the domestic trade in ivory in Australia and New Zealand – not even a requirement to substantiate the age, source or import history of the item,” Gordon says.
“I have seen [online] lots of [ivory] jewellery, in particular bags of earrings, bangles and rings, necklaces – including matching jewellery sets and bags of earrings. They all look remarkably similar.”
Founder and CEO of FLOW, Donalea Patman alleges that many pieces posing as antiques in Australia are made from newly poached ivory or rhino horn.
Image: Photos of ivory carvings without certificates of provenance for sale in Australian antique shops raise questions about their age. NB Contrary to popular belief yellowing of ivory occurs from exposure to sunlight not age. Very old ivory can maintain its whiteness if it hasn't been exposed to sun. Photos by Donalea Patman
The IFAW report doesn’t accuse any auction houses of selling illegal items, but documents a glaring lack of proof of origin in Australian auction houses: 73 lots of ivory inspected in Australia with only 2 lots with documentation available to view; no information on provenance or age on 42 percent of 1318 lots investigated in Australia and New Zealand.
Domestic bans are already in place in China, Hong Kong, but the Environment Department in Australia is washing its hands of a ban.
“While the Federal Government administers trade at the border, domestic ivory trade is a matter for state jurisdictions,” the Environment and Energy Department spokesperson emailed National Geographic.
The buck passing frustrates Patman, who can’t see why the Environment Department shouldn’t be the regulator as they have been designated as the management authority of CITES.
Each state and an expert on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Bob Carr, told Patman the jurisdiction was federal.
So where to turn? Patman isn’t turning. With the Melbourne Ivory Crush she intends to send a message directly to the Federal Government.
Lead image: A bull elephant enjoys a feed of prickly pear. There were 411 seizures of elephant ivory 2010-2016 at the Australian border. It is only an indication of the real figures says environmental policy analyst Fiona Gordon. Photo by Michael Scott Smith