CITES – The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – is an international consensus that restricts trading of endangered species. In the E.U, CITES is controlled and implemented by a Council Regulation and supporting Commission Regulations that laid out rules that govern the importation, exportation, and commercial use of specimens in the species listed.
In the UK, the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service are the Commissions Regulations Board that ensures that CITES guidelines are implemented.
CITES’ regulations do not only apply to living animals and plants, but also dead ones as well, and in a lot of cases, even when they cease to resemble their original form. Therefore, the convention covers anything that comes from the listed flora and fauna including but not limited to feathers, eggs, shells, teeth, tusks, semen, blood, seeds, and wood.
Stuffed mammals and birds are hard to miss due to their immediate visual impact, however, do not put all your concerns on these obvious antiques as an item’s origin is also of importance to CITES. Such as carved ivory and wood furniture. As such, the term specimen refers to all forms, parts, or derivatives of a species, whether living or dead.
This means that ivory, taxidermy items, tortoise shells, and furniture made out of some specific tropical hardwoods are all regulated. Keep that in mind when collecting antiques.
According to CITES’ regulations, commercial use does not just involve the act of selling an item. Its definition also covers offering to buy, purchasing, storing for sale, transporting for sale, the actual sale, and exchanging or displaying specimens to the public whether direct payment is involved or not.
Consequently, CITES’ impact is not only felt in the zoological and botanical industries but also, due to its concern for dead specimens, in the antique dealing and auctioneering world.
Nonetheless, a lot of antiques still do qualify for trade under an exemption known as the ‘worked item’ derogation from the controlling bodies. This derogation states that an item is eligible for exemption from sales control if it was acquired before June 1947. Moreover, the item needs to have been significantly altered from its original raw state for purposes of adornment, jewellery, utility, art, or to make a musical instrument. This derogation, therefore, qualifies most taxidermy.
The relevance of the June 1947 cut-off date is due to the appeal of the post-War design. The design’s mainstream appeal saw to some of the timbers that were used for mid-century furniture finding themselves on the banned list as well.
The implication, therefore, is that it is illegal to sell specimens that have not been altered, regardless of whether they were acquired before that date. For instance, it is unlawful to sell a whole, uncarved tusk from a narwhal, elephant, or walrus. It is not difficult to see why these measures are important at a time when most animal species are affected by issues such as global warming and human activities. Animals such as rhinos and elephants continue to be killed because of their horns and tasks.
In April 2018, the UK Government announced that it was going to introduce an ivory ban albeit with a few exemptions for some ivory-containing items. Consequently, there is expected to be a significant change in the rules governing antique collection once the new law is implemented.
You can also read this guideto learn more about what is and is not permitted under our current rules. There is also a detailed set of notes from the CITES seminar that was hosted by ATG, the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers, and the British Antiques Dealers’ Association that is worth going through.
This is an example commonly used by CITES when explaining their agenda. They describe an ivory snooker ball that was designed in 1900. Because the ball had been significantly modified from its original form – the raw tusk – for utility purposes many years prior to the cut-off date, its owner could sell it within the EU without having to have a CITES certificate.
Additionally, if the snooker ball had been modified later into something else such as a dagger handle before the cut-off date, it would still be legal to sell it without the CITES certificate. However, if the ball was altered after the cut-off date, its owner would no longer enjoy the previous derogation benefits and would have to obtain a CITES license.
This license is usually provided by the Department of Animal Health’s Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service. Nevertheless, there were significant changes implemented in May 2013 regarding the interpretation of the ‘worked item’ derogation.
The new guidance explained that the ‘worked item’ derogation doesn’t apply to the importation or exportation of items outside the EU. As such, anything a UK-based antique dealer sends to a buyer outside the European Union will require an export permit.
Moreover, countries outside the European Union have their own guidelines regarding the trade of these items with nations such as the US no longer accepting ivory imports of any kind.
There are stringent rules governing the sale and exportation of rhino horns. However, you can still sell ‘worked’ rhino horn items as long as they were acquired before 1947.
However, what cannot be traded regardless of their age are rhino horns that are still in their original state, including those that have been mounted as ornaments on clocks, inkwells, or as big game trophies.
The regulations surrounding the exportation of rhino horns from nations within the E.U were further tightened on March 2012 also to include any item that has been derived from the horn; worked or not.
The implication is that while selling ‘worked’ rhino horn products is still legal in the UK as long as you have the approval, this might not always be the case when it comes to sending the same products overseas.