The Coastal Star

Bob Weisblut argues that the proposed U.S. restrictions

on the import and sale of ivory items are too onerous

and will make buying and selling antique pieces, such as this

18th-century Chinese vase, too difficult for legitimate collectors.


Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Ron Hayes

    Every piece of ivory in the world once belonged to a living creature. A whale, a walrus, most often an elephant.
    And every year, about 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered by poachers, who sell the tusks to illegal traders. More than 100,000 were killed between 2009 and 2012, according to an investigation by National Geographic.
    In the United States, regulation of ivory is controlled by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, which is currently reviewing proposals to tighten the requirements for the import, export and sale of ivory items.
    Bob Weisblut, president of the International Ivory Society, agrees with the goal, but quarrels with some of the details, especially regarding the sale of antique ivory within the U.S.
    “I’m all for saving elephants,” says Weisblut, who lives in Ocean Ridge, “but I don’t think making the sale of antique ivory illegal is going to save any elephants or stop poaching.”
    For example, under the new proposals, sale of items across state lines would be permitted only if the elephant ivory was imported before 1990, is 100 years old or older, hasn’t been repaired or modified since 1973 or contains less than 200 grams of ivory, such as decorative pieces on a musical instrument.
    And the burden of proof would rest with the seller.
    “How do I know how much the ivory on a piano key weighs?” Weisblut asks. “Or the inlay on a silver chafing dish?”
    How can he prove conclusively that a piece he bought in an auction house hasn’t been repaired since 1973, or its actual age?
Ivory collectors, Weisblut says, are at the mercy of the information provided by the dealers from whom they
buy.
    “And remember,” he adds, “not all ivory comes from poachers. Elephants die natural deaths, too.”
    Gavin Shire, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, defended the proposed regulations.
    “As far as we’re concerned, this is not only common sense but also essential for the preservation of African elephants,” he said. “If poaching continues at current rates, we’ll witness their potential extinction, and the U.S. has a role to play here.”
    The department is reviewing comments on the proposal, the spokesman said, but no date for a decision has been set.
    If Fish and Wildlife accepts the changes, Congress would not have to approve them.
    As for Weisblut, he predicts legal challenges.
    “This will go on for years,” he said. “I’ll go to the Miami shows in January, but I’d hate to buy something I may never be allowed to sell.” 
For details about the proposed ivory restrictions, go to www.fws.gov/international/pdf/african-elephant-4d-proposed-changes.pdf.

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