Wildlife Watch

Christie's Auction House Fined After Trying to Sell Ivory

In this week’s crime blotter: an auctioneer bust, a bird smuggling scandal, and seized Sumatran tiger parts.

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Christie's, a prominent auction house, was fined this week after it tried to put elephant ivory up for sale.


Christie's, one of the world’s most recognized auction houses, offers everything from real estate to fine wines to upscale handbags. In April, one product up for bidding featured elephant ivory—and the company just got fined nearly $5,000 (3,250 pounds) because of it.

The item in question was a tusk mounted on silver, which was priced at between $1,750 and $2,600 (1,200 and 1,800 pounds), according to The Telegraph. A 63-year-old silver dealer named Barry Collins brought the tusk to London-based Christie’s claiming to have found it in a loft after his mother died.

This week at a London court, Christie’s admitted to selling the ivory in violation of EU law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a treaty that sets policy for the trade in wildlife and stringently regulates the trade in ivory to protect the poaching of elephants for their prized tusks.

“The tusk in this case was mounted on silver but was basically a raw, unmodified elephant tusk and therefore should not have been offered for sale without the correct documentation,” said Rowena Roberts, wildlife officer for Kensington and Chelsea borough in London, according to Reuters.

For its part, Christie’s said in a statement that the ivory sale was an isolated incident. “Christie’s unequivocally condemns the slaughter of elephants for illegal ivory and will not sell modern ivory, or unworked tusks of any age.”

Collins was arrested on a charge of offering the object for sale, Reuters reports. He denies the charge, arguing that he took the tusk to Christie’s only to determine its value.

Some other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and confiscations around the world announced this past week:

TALKING BIRDS: Police seized hundreds of birds in Johor, in southern Malaysia, and arrested the man allegedly in possession of the creatures, according to The Star Online. The species ranged from the vulnerable grey parrot to the plum-headed parakeet, a bird threatened by the pet trade. Law enforcement officials say the suspect has a permit to breed birds for commercial purposes, but they believe he’s been smuggling them instead.

TIGER TROUBLE: Police in Jakarta, Indonesia, nabbed three men accused of poaching Sumatran tigers, the New Strait Times reports. The police seized animal hides, bones, and teeth during raids of the suspects’ homes. Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered, with fewer than 400 remaining in the wild, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which sets the conservation status of animals.

CRISIS AVERTED: South Africa National Parks rangers apprehended three suspects who allegedly shot at the rangers’ helicopter five times, according to the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs. The trio, found in Kruger National Park—home to the vast majority of the country’s wild rhinos—is suspected of carrying three firearms, ammunition, and poaching equipment.

TUSK TAKING: Cops in Migori, a town in southwestern Kenya, busted three people suspected of transporting an elephant tusk and possessing three bullets, according to The Star. Authorities fear that organized criminal gangs who have been using the porous Kenya-Tanzania border in the Migori region to smuggle drugs are now turning to poaching, the publication notes.

TUSK COLLUSION: Police are holding the principal conservator with Tanzania National Parks after reports surfaced linking him with an elephant tusk seized in the Arusha Region, in the northern part of the country, All Africa says. Police previously arrested a man suspected of possessing the tusk, who led them to the government employee.

FISHING FLOP: South African authorities busted three men of Chinese origin who are accused of fishing in the country's waters without a permit, according to Dispatch Live.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to ngwildlife@ngs.org.

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