A London auction house was caught selling illegal ivory this month, becoming the first of its kind to face prosecution — a sign of the growing crackdown on the sale of products made from elephant ivory.
The piece was an ivory carving created from the tusk of an elephant who was killed in the 1960s, according to Wildlife News. Chiswick Auction House was slapped with a fine of £3,200 ($5,151).
The U.K.’s Wildlife Crime Unit and Arts and Antiques unit discovered the piece on sale by a vendor at London’s iconic Portobello Market and traced it back to the auction house. Because the piece was made after 1947, under the Convention for Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it cannot be considered “old ivory” — and is therefore illegal to buy or sell.
The auction house pleaded guilty in court, saying that they had mistakenly appraised the ornament. While the bust is only concerning one item, other U.K. vendors and auctioneers have been facing crackdowns lately. In June, BBC’s “Antiques Roadshow” announced that it would no longer appraise ivory tusks on air (though the move doesn’t cover all legal ivory products).
The royal family has spoken out against the ivory trade lately, calling for an all-out ban. In February, the Guardian reported that Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, wanted all of the ivory in Buckingham Palace’s 1,200-piece collection removed and destroyed in a show of solidarity. It’s been reported that he’s been removing ivory from his Clarence House and Highgrove homes over the past few years, but no announcement has been made yet on the palace’s items. In the U.S., progress is being made as well — New York and New Jersey have recently passed landmark legislation banning the sale of ivory.
It’s not a moment too soon — poaching for the ivory trade threatens to eliminate wild elephant populations. Over 20,000 African elephants were poached in Africa last year, according to a report released by CITES. There are some 410,000 to 650,000 elephants left in Africa — that number has declined by more than 50 percent in the past 35 years.