Ivory Bill

Written Evidence submitted by Two Million Tusks (IVB22)

Two Million Tusks (TMT) - Evidence

1 TMT published an in-depth investigative report ‘Ivory – The Grey Areas. A study of UK auction house ivory sales - The missing evidence’, in October 2017.  Please read the report here and see our website www.twomilliontusks.org

2 The report was cited many times by ivory consultation respondents and DEFRA referenced their findings within the consultation response. The findings were also quoted by Dr Julian Lewis MP and Owen Paterson MP during the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons.

3 During the investigations TMT found that nationwide well established and respected auction houses, who claim they are experts, were in fact unable to date ivory and many wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to the age of the pieces they were selling. The trade were unable to provide proof of age for 90% of the ivory lots investigated and the remaining 10% were given very lenient benefit of the doubt. 

4 Continued analysis since the publication of the ivory ban consultation shows not a decrease in the percentage of ivory sales, but an increase and most likely no imposed self-regulation just autonomous rule.

5 TMT were quickly noticed by leading elephant conservation charities, who are fully supportive of TMT and their work. Former Chief Inspector Martin Sims, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, (NWCU) also endorsed the study: "Two Million Tusks have highlighted significant issues within the antique industry whereby many auction houses try to sell ivory without even knowing the law nor the provenance/proof of age of the items they are trying to sell."

Reason for Submitting Evidence

6 It was noted during the Committee process some people were unaware of the report, the findings and TMT’s continued surveillance. Since the Committee meeting CI Hubble (NWCU) also recommended TMT submit the report as evidence. TMT would also like to challenge some of the suggestions put forward by the anonymous lawyers within their written evidence.

Response to Antique Trade Legal Representation During Committee Process

7 It is our duty and obligation as guardians of this planet to protect and conserve it for future generations.

8 The anonymous legal team who represented the antiques trade put forward several arguments against an ivory ban. They stated there is no proven link between poaching and sales of antique ivory. This is purely supposition and it would be reasonable to ask the trade to disprove a link, which they have been unable to do. On the other hand TMT have been able to prove that trade ‘experts’ are unable to age ivory and meet the current APHA laws. As well as the evidence contained within ‘Ivory – The Grey Areas’ Will Travers from Born Free spoke within Committee of the inability of a number of respected ivory experts to accurately age a carved capsicum which they claimed was pre-1947 and legal to sell, but carbon testing showed it to be a modern and illegal piece.

9 The submission proposes that a further exemption to the ban be made for "cultural artefacts of cultural, historical or artistic importance". However, to be clear, this effectively includes all pre-1947 worked ivory. This proposed exemption would swallow up the ivory ban in its entirety, which would then be a ban in name only. It should be noted that today’s ivory trinkets are tomorrow’s antiques but they are not necessarily worthy of being described as of cultural or artistic importance.


10 The lawyers do not suggest a mechanism by which only artefacts or high artistic value items would be covered. And indeed, it is difficult to imagine how this would work in practice. Hence why they propose that all pre-1947 worked ivory be exempted from the ban, which once again, would mean the 'ban' is a ban in name only.


11 The lawyers argue musical instruments benefit from an exemption and therefore all "cultural artefacts" ( ie all pre 1947 worked ivory) should also benefit. However, they neglect to mention that the volume of ivory within pre-1975 musical instruments must be less than 20%. It is difficult to see how they can make the leap that this means all antique ivory including items which are 100% ivory should be exempted from the ban, especially as an exemption exists for all pre-1947 items with low ivory content (less than 10%). Musical instruments also have a specific purpose and were not purely produced for aesthetic reasons, like many ivory pieces were.


12 In order to facilitate a registration scheme many 'experts' would need to be appointed. It is likely that the experts would be employees of the various ivory auction houses, and it is unlikely that they would therefore be entirely impartial. Due to the large number of applications and therefore experts required, the system would effectively still be one of industry self-certification. The industry currently self regulates and TMT have demonstrated that the trade, for many reasons, are inca pable of proper self-regulation .

Report Findings

13 Our investigations found during study 2A ivory sales accounted for 0.7% of all auction house trade and during study 2B ivory sales accounted for 0.76% of all auction house trade.

New Evidence

14 Since the publication of Ivory – The Grey Areas we have continued to monitor sales of ivory through the portal www.the-saleroom.com

15 Ivory sales have increased since the consultation response was published on 3 April 2018.  

16 Ivory offered for sale between 3 April 2018 to 23 May 2018 formed 0.84% of all lots.

17 Since the first reading of the Ivory Bill on 23 May 2018 to 4 June 2018 ivory formed 0.87% of all lots.

18 Since the second reading of the Ivory Bill on 4 June 2018 to 15 June ivory formed 0.98% of all lots.

19 Compared to Study 2A there has been a significant overall increase in lots of ivory offered for sale, which is to be expected given the imminent ban. It would be useful to know whether these ivory pieces are being purchased by UK or overseas buyers and where their final destination will be.


20 TMT are supportive of the proposed ban. Recommendations formed part of ‘Ivory – The Grey Areas’ and therefore would only add that the proposals laid out in the DEFRA consultation response should be further strengthened and the ban all encompassing, providing no loopholes for possible abuse and a continuing ivory trade.

Louise Ravula, Jane Alexander

Pete Matthews & Susie Laan

Two Million Tusks

June 2018


Prepared 19th June 2018