Saturday, December 21, 2013

Got Ivory? Got Tortoise Shell? Got Cuban Mahogany? Dalbergia Negra?

First of all, I want to say that I care about the rape of the wilderness, the destruction of the rain forest, murder of elephants, pollution of drinking water and general stupidity that permeates the world these days.  Not to mention fossil fuels creating measurable warming of the atmosphere, ocean and dramatic melting of the ice caps.

(Wow, that was depressing!)

In my small way, I consider myself a recycling restorer.  I salvage materials which would have been lost in the dump to repair and restore other objects that are on their way to the dump.  Therefore, I have chunks of Cuban mahogany, pieces of tortoise shell and ivory and rosewood carefully stored in boxes ready for the repair project to appear.

I have not had a need to record how and where I got these things.  Much of that stuff was acquired some 40 years ago.  It wasn't until the C.I.T.I.E.S. ban on endangered materials was signed in the 1980's that I realized these materials were protected by international law.  At that time, I began to record purchases of pre-ban ivory, tortoise shell and other materials, which I acquired only from recognized professional dealers in that field.  These dealers were required by law to keep accurate records of their inventory, where it was purchased, how much they had, who it was sold to and so on.

In fact, their records were more detailed and examined than records of gun sales, but that's another story.  (Elephants don't kill people; people with guns kill elephants!)

One of the dealers who participated in the formation of the C.I.T.I.E.S. act was Patrick George, the veneer dealer in Paris, where I purchase my veneer.  Another respected person who keeps these records and sells ivory, as a 5th generation ivory dealer, is David Warther, who has a museum of ivory in Ohio.  In fact, the jewel cabinet which I made that is featured at the top of this blog has turned ivory feet and knobs which I purchased from Mr. Warther.  He supplied authorized papers with the ivory that documented where and when the ivory was legally harvested.  That ivory came from Kenya and was imported into the US in 1963.  The document records the Tusk Identification number for the Federal Government reference.

When I decided to make a pair of Louis Philippe tables in the 1990's, I wanted to use satinwood and Brazilian rosewood (dalbergia negra).  Since it was protected, I purchased from Patrick George some old stock which was harvested in 1952, and legally brought it into the US with appropriate papers.

Louis Philippe Tables

If you try to purchase protected woods from outside the country you need the following:

What you should do to make sure the wood you are interested in purchasing is to contact the supplier, ask them to provide you either (1) a copy of the CITES pre-Convention certificate, stamped "cleared" by USDA/APHIS to show legal import if the wood came into the U.S. after 6/11/96, or (2) an invoice showing they purchased the wood in the U.S. before 6/11/92 (showing that it was imported before the listing date), or (3) if they imported the wood themselves before 1992, documentation of that import to prove the pre-1992 date (customs documents, shipping documents, bill of lading, etc.)

If they can't provide one of the above three documents, don't buy from them!


Ron Vandervort
Permits Biologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Management Authority
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 212
Arlington, VA 22203
800-358-2104 X2312
703-358-2312 Direct Line
703-358-2281 FAX 

I support legislation for protecting endangered species, but I also recognize that the same law doesn't work in all cases.  For example, protections against killing elephants for their ivory tusks works.  It is possible to keep track of the legal ivory, properly harvested, and work to prevent poachers from doing their horrible job within the country borders.

On the other hand, it is impossible to protect sea turtles with the same law.  The difference is that poachers do not normally kill the elephant for the meat.  But sea turtles taste delicious.  Therefore, turtles are killed and eaten and the shell is thrown back into the sea, leaving no evidence.  I wonder how many sea turtles are killed by petroleum leaks?

At the same time, in Brazil, rubber trees are naturally protected by the farmers because their sap is valuable.  But the result of making rosewood illegal is that it has no value, so it is not a problem for the same farmers to burn down acres of wild forest to create grass land for cows.  What if the rosewood trees were worth a lot of money and could be properly harvested?  Would they be so eager to burn them down?

I live in California, and I have noticed a recent trend by activists to seek out people on ebay and Craig's list who list materials such as ivory, tortose shell and so forth.  In some cases, armed federal agents arrive and confiscate the object, as if it were a threat to our security.  I note that the auction houses are starting to list tortoise shell as "faux" and ivory as "bone" to avoid problems.

Now, I receive a note from David Warther, who clearly has a professional interest in these things and keeps up on the law.  Here it is:
Hello Everyone!
Ivory Ban - The Presidential Advisory Committee that met 12/16/13 does plan to recommend a total ban on ivory sales, within the US, to the task force on Wildlife Trafficking.
If you want to oppose that action please email ACWT@FWS.GOV before December 28th when they file their report. I have attached a letter beneath my signature (below) that you can use by cutting and pasting but feel free to change it as may fit your interests and work.
This is not a ban on new ivory but rather a ban on the sale of ALL ivory that is in any form. This includes pre-ban and antique ivory in musical instruments, knives, guns, cues, etc. and will make Grandma's piano illegal to sell if it has ivory keys. This sounds ludicrous but it is true. If this passes then it will take the form of a bill that will be set before Congress in 2014.
Presently this ban on the sale of ivory is to include fossil mammoth ivory as well as pre-ban and antique elephant ivory.
Please forward this information to everyone you think may want to voice their opposition to this type of government control.  
Sincerely ,
David Warther
2561 Crestview Dr. NW
Dover , Ohio
Letter :

Dear Advisory Committee,
 I stand against a total ban of all ivory sales in the US.
As called for in the Presidential Executive Order I ask that the recommendations continue to allow for "legal and legitimate commerce”. 
The ivory market in the US is stable and /or declining, and the seizure records indicate that a high proportion of the seizures made were personal effects lacking the correct paperwork, not the “blood tusks “ spoken about in the media. The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) analysis indicated that the amount of ivory (by weight) seized annually has not increased in recent years. WE are not the consumers of the poached ivory. Therefore banning ivory sales within the US will do nothing to save the remaining world population of elephants.
CITES MIKE report (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) September 2013 report, page 64 analysis states "Africa's elephant populations are managed sustainably" and that in 2013 the quota for permits for legal elephants was 1350 animals. There is legal trade that can be monitored with DNA testing and permitting. Enforcing and policing a ban would use funds that should be used to support the ban on imports already in effect.
I fully support the CITES rules, closing international borders to elephant ivory trade, a law already in effect that should be fully supported and enforced. I stand against a total ban of all ivory commerce within our United States borders, a decision that would be an enforcement nightmare. Like prohibition it will cause a new wave of illicit commerce where a legitimate one now exists. Museums, antique dealers, collectors, artisans and individual citizens have invested in a legal and valuable material. Sanctioned trade in ivory that is legal (culled and pre-ban) and comes from unthreatened sources (mammoth, boar, warthog, antique and recycled products) can pose no possible threat to elephant herds in the wild.
I believe our mutual goals are the same and a solution can be reached. Please keep the focus where it belongs. To increase the elephant population the killing must be stopped in Africa and at its borders. 
Respectfully Submitted,
I am deeply concerned at what impact this poorly designed legislation would have if passed in the current form.  Artisans, conservators, collectors and dealers would overnight loose a significant portion of their life's work.  What becomes of the millions of historic objects that become illegal?

As an example: last month I visited a major museum objects conservation lab to examine a wonderful tortoise shell clock.  During the conversation, this topic came up and it was pointed out that another table, with tortoise shell and brass, was to be exported for a museum exposition to another country. So that there would be no problems with customs, several small repairs of tortoise shell were removed, to prevent the possible seizure by authorities, which was a real possibility.

Can you imagine the result of international museum loans, if every suspicious repair of protected materials were removed so that these items could be displayed "legally"?

1 comment:

Jonas Jensen said...

I agree that a total ban would be a terrible law.
But those are sadly the problems that are to be encountered when we are living in a free part of the World. If enough people can gather momentum, they can have legislators come up wit all sorts of strange laws.
A friend of mine once gave me a tooth from a sperm whale. His uncle had participated in killing the whale in the 1950'ies I believe, and it was in no way frowned upon at that time. My children have brought the tooth to school as a discussion object in biology classes.
I hope the law doesn't pass.
Jonas (Denmark)