The plight of the African elephant seems to be on everyone’s mind these days. This is a good thing since the elephant is fast going the way of the woolly mammoth. But what is actually being done on behalf of the elephant? In point of fact, absolutely nothing. Laws to outlaw the sale or importation of ivory are mere window dressing to a problem that is intrinsic to our modern era–that lawlessness, in this case the murder of elephants, will be abided as long as we think we are being proactive about the problem.
We are not being proactive, we are being reactive, and it is a mindless reflex that epitomizes the worst of how good intentions lead to calamitous consequences. The law proposed by Assemblyman Sweeney to outlaw the sale of all ivory and the presidential directive to prohibit the import of all ivory and to further restrict the trade in rosewood, tortoise shell and other resources that are either endangered or extremely scarce, mean well, but will cripple the antiques trade. In essence, what is happening is the expropriation by the government of our livelihood.
This may sound dramatic, but it isn’t. There are hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars of items that are being threatened with seizure should the directive hold and the Sweeney law go forward. This is contrary to American law, at the least, but leaving that aside, what is to become of these antique items? Simply stated, they can only be destroyed. To what purpose? That ivory or rosewood item was made when there were, seemingly, limitless quantities of the material. What gets resolved by such actions?
There is an answer and it is a very simple one. Every antique that includes endangered materials needs to be registered and given a passport of its own. The database for the passport should be international, accessible to all governments. Undocumented pieces should either be documented or made illegal. In this computerized age, it would be remarkably easy to do and I am one hundred percent certain that every bona fide dealer would support such a measure. These “top down” solutions currently being proposed ned to be seen for what they are–a band aid for a patient with cancer.