Written by Janette Moran, Registrar, Waterfront, National Museums Liverpool

This session looked at the UK’s introduction of new rules about what you can legally do with ivory which is basically not a lot!

CITES – (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) is an international agreement to ensure that the international trade in specimens of wild plants and animals does not threaten the survival of the species. There are currently 184 member countries and its purpose is to limit the trade in endangered species both plants and animals. The CITES agreement accords varying degrees of protection to more than 40,000 species of animals and plants.

The species are split in to 3 appendices according to the degree of protection they need. Appendix one includes species that afford the most protection because they are in danger of extinction. For the EU there are 4 categories: A-D.

As an owner of an item which falls into Appendix A, it is not illegal to own the item or to display it as part of your own collection, but if you were to display the item in a commercial exhibition, then you may need an Article 10 permit. Further information on this can be found here.

There are a couple of resources that can assist you in identifying the species in your object – both the National History Museum and Kew have an identification service. Species + – official site of CITES – tells you what the position and requirements of CITES are for that particular species.

Fine art transport agents can apply for a CITES permit on your behalf but you need to provide as much information as you can, including provenance of the item, and demonstrate due diligence in confirming the item contains the species you are saying it does. There are 2 types of permits – one is a travelling permit (for example, if a work is going on loan) and the other is a single use permit.

A troublesome question is ‘what is meant by dealing?’ Semantics are certainly at play here! The official line is buying, selling, hiring or offering to buy, sell, hire. Hiring is the key phrase for us in museums and galleries. CITES consider it to be ‘barter or exchange’ if there is a loan fee, a catalogue, a courier, or if the borrower pays for shipping. All of these actions are considered illegal with fines up to £250,000 and up to 5 years in jail. Gulp!

Elephant ivory can move between credited museums without the need for an exemption. If one party is not accredited – can apply for one of these exemptions:

  • Musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20% ivory by volume
  • Items made before 3 March 1947 with less than 10% ivory by volume
  • Portrait miniatures made before 1918 with a total surface area of no more than 320 square centimetres
  • Items a qualifying museum intends to buy or hire

There is also an exemption for items made before 1918 that are of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value.

Two final things to be wary of! If you are asked to collect an item from Liverpool but you are then asked to return it to the Bahamas – don’t do it! And if you apply for an exemption on behalf of someone else – you are liable as you are stating that the information provided is correct and true. Always better to get the owner to apply!

In trying to make light of such a serious subject, the predominant message of Alastair’s presentation was – don’t ship ivory!