Lawsons pulls both elephant ivory and rhino horns off the auction list after public uproar (Australia)


The Sydney Morning Herald

Date Published
A public uproar over the sale of a pair of black rhinoceros horns and two pairs of elephant tusks has forced a Sydney auction house to withdraw the items from this Friday’sauction list – a critical win, say animal rights campaigners.
Lawsons has, since mid-August, resisted calls from animal conservation groups to remove the specimens from its auction list, telling one campaigner that they “had nothing else to say”.
Humane Society International, with the support of Greenpeace and International Fund for Animal Welfare, began a social media campaign on Tuesday, demanding Lawsons pull the horns and ivory from auction and change its policies to prevent similar items from surfacing in the future.
They said the sales would lead to an increase in demand for rhino horns, and consequently poaching, which is decimating the species. The Javan rhino in Vietnam and the western black rhino in Africa were declared extinct in 2011.
Myths that the consumption of powdered horns can cure cancer and work as an aphrodisiac have seen prices surge to $100,000 a kilogram on the black market.
Lawsons swiftly responded by pulling the black rhino horns, but chose to keep the tusks on the list. After receiving a barrage of emails in the afternoon from campaign supporters and clients, it announced it would also remove the ivory items.
Alexia Wellbelove, senior program manager at HSI, said Lawsons’ actions set a clear precedent for other auction houses around the country.
Sydney auction house Theodore Bruce sold seven antique rhino horns for more than $620,000 in 2011, more than double their estimated value, Fairfax Media has previously reported. Mossgreen sold an “extraordinary large and rare” white rhino horn in the same year for $207,400.
“Lawsons action today sends a clear message to all auction houses that the sale of rhino and elephant products will not be tolerated and HSI will be contacting all auction houses including Lawsons to ensure they implement policies which prevent us having to take such action again,” said Ms Wellbelove.
Lawsons expected bids for the black rhino horns to hit $70,000, for a pair of unmounted African elephant tusks to reach $70,000 and the mounted tusks to reach $16,000.
Simon Hill, general manager of Lawsons, said management had listened to the concerns of “clients, individuals and conservation bodies” and decided the sales of the horns were not in anyone’s interest.
“We decided the correct thing was to withdraw it and not encourage the sale of these kinds of items in the future. Even if it doesn’t encourage trade, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Rebecca Ramaley, a client of Lawsons, contacted the auctioneers on Tuesday morning after learning about the auction from Greenpeace. She was prepared to tell them to pull her Aboriginal painting from an auction this month if they proceeded with the sales of the horns and tusks.
“I am an example of a customer who would have walked away if they hadn’t,” she said.
“It may have been legal but Lawsons and similar companies will find in situations such as these that changes in the views of their customer base, not laws, will cause them to make different choices on what they auction.”
Isabel McCrea, regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said the sudden withdrawal of the items was a “victory for people power”.
“These products are no longer considered to be acceptable, even if they’re antique,” she said. “The strength of public feeling really shows how much people value elephants and rhinos alive – not as trinkets.”
The world rhino population has dropped from 500,000 at the start of the 20th century to just 29,000 because of poaching, according to the Save the Rhino organisation based in London.
Poaching dramatically increased from 2008 after rumours that horns could cure cancer went viral in Vietnam.
About 13 rhinos were poached a year on average between 2000 and 2007 in South Africa, according to government figures. So far this year, 969 rhinos have been killed.
All five remaining species are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s threatened species Redlist, with three classified as critically endangered.