California collectors challenge state’s ivory ban

Global Business

California collectors challenge state's ivory ban

The poaching of elephants and rhinos is increasing at an alarming rate as demand in Asia for ivory and horns skyrockets. China is the largest importer of ivory after the United States. But now states are making efforts to stem the supply by imposing bans on buying and selling ivory and horns. California is the latest to jump on the bandwagon.

CCTV America’s May Lee reports that opponents of the ban aren’t going down without a fight.

California collectors challenge state's ivory ban

California collectors challenge state's ivory ban

California joins the list of U.S. states banning the sale of ivory and rhino horn. Opponents of the ban say they aren't going down without a fight.
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Godfrey Harris lost count of how many antique ivory pieces he owns. He started collecting as a child nearly 70 years ago. Some of his pieces date back centuries, making them quite valuable.

But starting July 1st, a new California bill goes into effect, which bans anyone from purchasing and selling ivory, as well as rhino horn. The law closes a loophole that had allowed the trade of ivory in the state as long as it was obtained before 1977.

“The ban is unnecessary. The ban is an overreaction on the part of our state legislators to heavy pressure from the animal rights groups,” Harris said.

Harris, who is also executive director of the Ivory Education Institute, said the ban is punishing people who acquired their pre-1977 items legally and makes their precious artifacts worthless.

But wildlife and conservation groups say the growing scourge of poaching in Africa and Asia calls for changes in human behavior.

Poaching statistics are staggering. According to multiple wildlife and scientific groups, 96 elephants are poached every day. That’s one every 15 minutes.

On April 30th, the tusks of 6,500 elephants and the horns of nearly 350 rhinos were torched in Kenya, sending a dramatic anti-poaching message.

But Harris vehemently disputes the poaching figures.

“It’s a very good way for the animal rights groups who get a lot of sympathy for seeing elephant calves searching for their mother who has been slaughtered for their tusks, as a fund raising device,” Harris stated.

Harris’ Institute is challenging the ban by suing the state of California. Meanwhile, the avid collector has an answer for what he and others will do with their collectibles.

“Sure, you’ve heard of a black market?” Harris said.

Ivory trade debate

For two different views on the ivory trade debate, CCTV America’s Rachelle Akuffo  interviewed:

  • John Frederick Walker, conservationist and author of “Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants”.
  • Adam Roberts, chief executive of Born Free USA
Ivory trade debate

Ivory trade debate

For two different views on the ivory trade debate, CCTV America's Rachelle Akuffo interviewed: John Frederick Walker, conservationist and author of "Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants". and Adam Roberts, chief executive of Born Free USA.
Download Video

  • RationalAmerican

    Thanks goodness this idiotic overreach by the California legislature is being challenged . Banning the sale of legitimate antiques (and YES they can be reliably differentiated from modern ivory, no matter how much the zealots protest this FACT.) in CA will not save one elephant in Africa poached for the Asian (modern ivory) market. It will however harm law abiding California residents for absolutely no legitimate reason. It will accomplish nothing, in reality, other than harming CA citizens/collectors/dealers/heirs who follow the law and ALSO advocate saving modern day elephants. Common sense and fairness is what is needed in this situation but rarely found in feel-good activists and a CA legislature that is controlled by those with the deepest pockets…i.e. the most influence. May fairness, rationality, sensitivity to ALL prevail in this case, for a change.

    • Cruelty Free

      Keep dreaming

  • Cruelty Free

    Meanwhile in California: Joseph Chait Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

    M.A.D. STAFF | MAY 3RD, 2016

    – See more at:

    Joseph Chait, 38, the senior auction administrator of a gallery and auction house located in Beverly Hills, California, pleaded guilty on March 9 in federal court in New York City to two counts related to wildlife trafficking.

    He was charged with conspiring to smuggle wildlife products made from rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory, and coral with a market value of at least approximately $1 million and with falsifying documents. According to court documents, Chait falsified customs forms by stating that rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory items were made of bone, wood, or plastic.

    On August 29, 2010, Chait and the auction house sold what was described as a “Rare Rhino Horn Walking Cane,” made of rhinoceros horn, according to court documents. (The auction house is not named in court papers, but the lot numbers, objects, and dates all correspond to sales held by I.M. Chait in Beverly Hills, California.) The estimate was $3000/4000, and the cane sold for $5490.

    In October 2010 Chait e-mailed the buyer’s assistant, stating that “because of possible customs problems, we cannot state that it is rhino horn on the invoice. We have to call it something else like wood, or bone, etc.,” court papers say. Another e-mail stated, “[W]e will ship to the Hong Kong address. There should be no problems with customs. Hong Kong is very easy to deal with as compared to mainland China. In my experience, we have not had any problems with shipping something and calling it something else.”

    Chait shipped the cane to an address in Shanghai, China without a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) permit and used a false customs declaration stating that the object was made of wood with a total value of $100.

    During Asia Week in New York City in March 2011, Chait was approached about the potential sale of a carving of Guanyin, an East Asian spiritual figure, made from rhinoceros horn. Despite knowing that it was not a genuine antique, he accepted it for consignment, advertised it to foreign clients in China, and put it on the cover of the auction house’s catalog for an auction of Asian art and antiques.

    The rhino carving sold at auction for $231,800 on September 25, 2011. According to court documents, Chait offered to provide a falsified receipt to assist the buyer in transporting it across international borders. “I’ll just call it plastic or resin carving or something like that,” he allegedly said. Chait allegedly made a fake invoice for a “Plastic Carved Figure of a Seated Deity,” stated that the carving was made of plastic, and indicated that it had sold for $108.75, not $231,800.

    Chait also sold “wildlife” carvings to a Chinese dealer and provided those carvings to that customer’s courier even after learning that the dealer had been arrested in China for smuggling protected wildlife products. The Chinese dealer, unable to leave the country because of his arrest, was a big buyer. He spent $255,711 for eight purchases from August 2010 to September 2011.

    Court papers outlined other offenses such as shipping three lacquered ivory snuff bottles to a foreign buyer with a customs declaration calling them “3 plastic carvings”; calling a Chinese carved hornbill skull a “plastic carving” in customs documents; and indicating that eight ivory carvings were “modern bone carvings.”

    Chait e-mailed a German buyer in 2009 to tell him he couldn’t ship ivory. “You have two choices: 1) give us an address of your friend or relative in the USA that we can ship the piece to. 2) Take a risk and ask us to ship the item to you in Germany, but not call it ivory and call it something else.”

    Chait e-mailed an Australian customer in 2010, saying, “Ivory is illegal to ship outside of the USA, so the only way we can ship it is to call it something else on the customs form when it is shipped…You must decide what to call [it] (such as bone, plastic, wood, etc), and you must tell me what you want to call it on the customs form.” Chait notified the buyer that if the shipment were seized by customs, the buyer was fully responsible for it.

    A New Zealand customer got an e-mail from Chait in 2010 noting that the only way to ship ivory to New Zealand was to call it something else, such as bone or plastic.

    U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “Joseph Chait and his co-conspirators trafficked in wildlife, including rhinoceros horns, worth a market value of at least $1 million, deliberately violating laws put in place to protect endangered species.”

    Chait faces a maximum of five years in prison for conspiring to smuggle wildlife products. His sentencing is scheduled for June 22.

    Originally published in the May 2016 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2016 Maine Antique Digest

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  • RationalAmerican

    So Chait’s a crook. AND he’s been caught and will be paying the price for his crimes based on enforcing existing state & federal laws. That’s as it should be, obviously. That situation has nothing to do with the one I mentioned…intrastate commerce in legitimate antiques. If one doctor is a criminal, should we outlaw all doctors? If someone is killed in a car accident, should we outlaw cars. You don’t need a sledgehammer to kill a fly. Cruelty Free, think rather than just reflexively look bitter, confused and ineffective about unrelated facts, outliers and worthless non-solutions to a problem. This is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with by thinking, caring adults that can deal with some complexities. It’s not an either or, black & white, right vs wrong, simplistic issue. And no one involved in the legitimate antique art trade wants modern ivory or condones harming living animals. Grow up.