The Ivory Project is a wildlife crime research project, led by the University of Portsmouth, exploring the extent of the trade in ivory goods among antique dealers and auction houses in the UK to measure the impact of a total ban on ivory sales and closing down the UK ivory market.

The global illegal wildlife trade is worth $19 billion a year. Every day, 100 elephants are killed for their tusks with ivory selling for $900 a kilo in Asia. The illegal ivory trade and the existence of legal domestic markets help fuel this trade.

The project’s collaborative approach to produce applied research, brings together University expertise across the range of criminal justice fields with antiques traders, conservationists, forensic scientists, economists and representatives of national and international law enforcement agencies.

All are interested in building a more effective and collaborative multi-agency approach to the investigation and enforcement of wildlife crime. The Ivory Project will formally submit a response to the recent DEFRA Consultation regarding the UK domestic ivory market and were asked by DEFRA to share the results of the Ivory Project Report.

The team spent the last year gathering information through an online questionnaire to the antiques trade and via one to one interviews. The Elephant in the Sale Room: An inquiry into the UK antiques trade’s sale of ivory report was published and two additional papers were published in The International Journal of Cultural Property and Ecological Economics.

Caroline Cox, Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Law who launched the Ivory Project alongside Dr Nick Pamment from the University’s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies said: “The University’s strategy commits to establishing nationally and internationally recognised cross-discipline thematic areas to address key issues facing society. Diverse specialisms look at scientific and technological development of deployable forensic techniques, the legal framework and constraints affecting the effective and efficient methods of tackling related crime, focussed on resilience and future planning. The Ivory Project is well-placed to take an innovative approach to reduce the harm caused by wildlife crime.”

The project team developed relationships with national and international antiques and conservation organisations including The British Antiques Dealers’ Association, LAPADA, The National Wildlife Crime Unit (NCWU), Zoological Society London (ZSL) and Stop Ivory.

Ian Guildford from the NCWU said: “The University of Portsmouth’s work among antique dealers and auction houses in the UK is an important addition to the fight against illegal ivory trading within the UK and abroad.

“The NWCU are consulted about ivory sales within the antiques market, both legal and illegal. We hope this project will aid identification and help combat illegal trade in the UK and work towards combating the ongoing
demand for ivory worldwide.”

The Zoological Society London has praised the approach taken by the project, saying it “was exciting, allowing direct access to new thinking, techniques and science assisting our conservation efforts in Kenya and beyond.”

Fundamentally, the Ivory Project has provided a research model and legacy to support collaborative research in wildlife crime for the foreseeable future.

Published: 18 January 2018