New Zealand’s loop holes are promoting Ivory Trade

A report released this month by NZ environmental policy analyst Fiona Gordon notes that on a per capita basis for ivory carving imports from 2009 to 2012, New Zealand easily tops the United States – a globally-significant ivory consumer nation.
I caught up with Fiona on the weekend and asked her why she would dedicate more than 200 hours of her own free time in compiling this report for the New Zealand Ministers.


I want my children to grow up in a world where elephants are not just an image on the internet,” Fiona tells me. “I think New Zealanders often feel like a small player on global issues. When we believe we are just a small cog in a massive machine, we can wash our hands of responsibility. And, there is some comfort in this, but that comfort comes at a price – by default we are accepting that we cannot make this world a better place for our children through our direct actions. I am more comfortable with the old saying every little bit counts.  I want clean hands.”

What if I were to arrive at Auckland airport with 100 pieces of elephant ivory and claim it as personal use, what would happen next?

The assumption is that you would have your permits handy!
Put simply, all commercial trade in ivory was banned in 1989. But there are a substantial number of permits for over 50 items of ivory for ‘personal use’ leaving and arriving in New Zealand during recent years. In fact, permits for personal use have included up to 261 ivory items for import, and up to 278 items for re-export.  So, yes, it is conceivable that you could bring 100 pieces of elephant ivory into New Zealand for personal use, with permits.

I suspect that most New Zealanders would be surprised that such large amounts of ivory can be for personal use – it begs the question about how personal use is decided.

What I understand is that, in general, if you are bringing any ivory into New Zealand you will need an import permit from DOC and an export permit from the country of origin. Even if the ivory can be shown to be antique, you still require permits.  And, you’d need these permits before you travel with or send on the items, even for little ivory “souvenirs” from your travels. But, there are some exceptions exemptions.
What is surprising is that there are large quantity import permits for personal use for ivory noted as unknown origin or wild origin, not of pre-ban source. This may well prove to be a recording error, or due to some exceptions, either way this needs clarification.
Interesting too is that the bulk of the ivory items confiscated by New Zealand authorities over the years were found on their way into the country. It makes you question if the regulations could be simplified, and if there needs to be improved awareness.

Only African elephant ivory items imported before the 1989 ivory trade ban, or imported since then with a Department of Conservation permit for commercial trade, can be legally traded in New Zealand. So please explain this further. 

There is African elephant ivory in New Zealand that was brought into the country well before the 1989 trade-ban.  But, over 4,000 pieces ivory have been imported to New Zealand since the ban, via the DOC permitting process. Some of that ivory will have been brought into the country for commercial trade purposes, some for personal use and some as hunting trophies or for scientific purposes even.
The key thing here is that ivory imported for personal use since the ban was deemed ‘not possessed for commercial purposes’, so in theory these items shouldn’t be sold on the domestic market – because they were not imported for commercial trade purposes.
With personal use imports of over 50 items, and no domestic regulations requiring evidence of age, source or permits at the point of sale, there is potential for ‘personal use’ ivory to be sold on the domestic market.

Why would the Department of Conservation ever grant a permit to trade ivory in/out of New Zealand?

I understand that ivory sourced before the trade-ban can still be imported or re-exported for commercial trade. And, ivory can come into or out of New Zealand for other purposes, such as scientific or personal purposes, and there’s been an increase in the number of hunting trophies imported here too.  The legislation is complex and there are some exceptions, for example, ivory from the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and Zimbabwe don’t have the same trade restrictions as other elephant populations either.
The majority of New Zealand imports and re-exports are of pre-ban ivory. But according to the records during 2007 – 2012 there were 1420 elephantidae specimens (including ivory) which moved across our border, from “Wild” or “Unknown” source.
Because they are not noted as pre-ban, it is not clear how all of these items were eligible for import or re-export.
It may turn out to be some sort of reporting or recording error, or it may be due to some exceptions, but either way, the Department of Conservation and the Customs Department needs to have a closer look at these particular records.
From a bigger perspective though, why does New Zealand allow trade in ivory at all?
CITES regulations don’t restrict us from putting in place stricter trade regulations, so what is stopping the New Zealand Government from restricting imports and re-exports and domestic trade further, or to completely ban the ivory trade altogether? Especially given that New Zealand’s ivory imports and re-exports have increased, and ivory on our domestic market is selling well above estimated values.   And, especially considering it is the demand for and dollar value of all ivory which is leading to the current surge of poaching – the annihilation of elephants in the wild. In a nutshell, when the buying stops, the killing can too.

If there is no paperwork prior to 1989 surely anyone trading ivory now can just use the excuse that they don’t have the paperwork?

Well, I understand that the domestic ivory trade is not monitored and is unregulated – there are no requirements for proof of an ivory items age, source or import purpose at point of sale. Sometimes, ivory items for sale are displayed with statements of provenance or the description of the item includes the period from which the item is believed to be from. But, the bulk of the ivory for sale I have seen doesn’t display any ‘hard’ evidence of its legal eligibility for sale.

The report has now been sent to the Prime Minister, Minister for Conservation, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Customs Minister. What do you see as the best outcome from this?

It is simple – when the buying stops, the killing can too.
To reduce demand we need increased awareness. I think that the impacts of the illegal ivory trade – on elephants, on communities and on security – are largely unknown by the New Zealand public. New Zealanders would be surprised to learn just how much ivory crosses our boarders – over 14,000 items of ivory since 1980. And surprised to know just how much illegally traded ivory has been confiscated in New Zealand – over 700 pieces.
First we need a public ivory crush event of all the confiscated ivory held by the Crown – this provides many ‘wins’. It’s an effective way to support international efforts, to demonstrate our nations intolerance for illegal ivory trading, and to increase awareness. It would also demonstrate leadership in the Oceania Region on these issues.
Second, we need to completely ban all ivory trade – no imports, no re-exports and no domestic trade. After the ivory crush, we will have a better informed New Zealand public, and the Government will be in a better position to move towards such a ban.
As long as there is demand for ivory, elephants will be brutally killed for their tusks. We need to ‘Say No to Ivory’ full stop. If we can do this, then we might just have clean hands. Better still, we might even be able to tell our children that we played an active role in saving the elephant from extinction.
A petition spearheaded by New Zealand teacher Virginia Woolf, requesting a complete ban of all ivory trade in, to and from New Zealand has been registered with NZ House of Representatives and will be considered by a Select Committee in the coming months. The Report supports this petition, and specifically seeks a public confiscated ivory crush event.
Keep an eye out for a call for support in the coming months!
Key matters of Concern
The report presents 12 specific matters of concern pertaining to the New Zealand Trade in ivory, which Fiona Gordon is now encouraging the New Zealand Government to give full consideration to. These matters are briefly outlined as follows:
1. New Zealand plays a consistent and increasing role as an ivory importer and re-exporter.
2. Import and re-export records of large quantities (50 – 278 items) for Personal use.
3. High likelihood of significant privately held stockpiles of ivory in New Zealand.
4. Imports and re-exports of ivory of Wild and Unknown source (not noted as pre-ban).
5. Potential for ivory imported for Personal use to be sold on the domestic market.
6. Potential for ivory re-exported for Personal use to be sold on the domestic market of the destination
7. Increased re-exports of personal items to China 2012.
8. New Zealand trade in pre-ban ivory is reflective of the international ivory market.
9. Domestic trade mechanisms.
10. Majority of imports and re-exports are of Loxodonta africana.
11. Majority of seizures are for imports.
12. Confiscated ivory stockpile: 791 items of confiscated Elephantidae specimens are in the ownership of the

Auckland man Jiezhen Jiang is the first person in New Zealand to be convicted for ivory trade.

Two of the ivory items were in a parcel intercepted at the International Mail Centre in Auckland after being posted from Portugal and England. The remaining six ivory items were seized from Jiang’s home in October, 2011.  This was the first time someone had been prosecuted, convicted and sentenced for illegally importing ivory into New Zealand.
He was fined $12 000. / July 2013.