By Fiona Gordon – Director of Gordon Consulting and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.

The meeting of Parties to the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva this week marks almost 3 years since CITES agreed for the first time in its history that national ivory markets contributing to poaching or illegal trade should be closed.

The historic decision stemmed from grave concerns over continued poaching of elephants for their ivory and the acknowledgement that legal domestic markets provide cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory. Concerns that remain the focus of discussions at CITES Conference of Parties over the next couple of days.

Fortunately, domestic ivory markets are steadily closing. The United States, France, China and the United Kingdom have now closed theirs and Hong Kong is set to follow suit in 2021. Last week Singapore announced it will also close its market – an announcement that came shortly after Singapore authorities made a record haul of 8.8 tonnes of illegal ivory seized in transit between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam.

Bucking this strong international trend however is New Zealand, whose domestic ivory trade remains devoid of any internal regulations and alarmingly appears to have increased dramatically since 2016.

A recently completed 10 month survey of just two New Zealand auction houses found over 800 ivory items for sale, more than double the number found for sale at four New Zealand auction houses during a 9 month survey reported in 2016.

The number of auctions offering ivory for sale appears to have increased by 60 percent and at one New Zealand auction alone a swathe of ivory carvings disappeared out the door for around NZD $10,000 (USD $6,600).  A large proportion of the ivory items found for sale were entirely made of ivory, including carvings, okimonos and netsukes.

The observed increase in trade adds much weight to the calls of more than 40,000 people in support of campaigns led by the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand and African Wildlife Foundation asking the New Zealand government to shut its domestic ivory trade down.

“It is  very disturbing to learn of the steep increase in the amount of ivory for sale in New Zealand,” said Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Former UNDP Administrator, Rt. Honourable Helen Clark,  “I support a ban on its sale along the lines introduced by the Government of the United Kingdom. New Zealand must not be a weak link in international efforts to curb the ivory trade which is responsible for the slaughter of elephants.”

Both auction houses surveyed are registered auctioneers under New Zealand’s Auctioneers Act 2013 which requires records to be maintained, including descriptions of property offered for sale.  Surprisingly, few of the catalogue descriptions for each of the ivory items offered for sale included statements, let alone any verifiable evidence, regarding their age or source.

Any assumption that all ivory on New Zealand’s domestic market must be antique, simply doesn’t hold true either. Two convictions for illegal trade involving thousands of dollars-worth of ivory have already illustrated how illegally imported ivory can easily be traded on New Zealand’s domestic market under the guise of legality.

Further, thousands of elephant ivory carvings, ivory pieces and tusks have been legally imported into New Zealand since the 1989 international trade ban for non-commercial purposes.  Over 60 per cent of these imported ivory items are noted as being sourced from the ‘wild’ or of ‘unknown’ source.  Most of this ivory arrives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some from Mozambique or it is re-exported from Great Britain and Australia.

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation confirm that any ivory legally imported after the 1989 ban can legitimately be sold on New Zealand’s domestic market.   Even items specifically imported for non-commercial purposes have no restriction placed on their future sale.

“There is no question that the domestic ivory markets in countries like New Zealand and elsewhere continue to fuel corruption and poor governance, plus the wanton killing of elephants in Africa,” says Kaddu Sebunya, Chief Executive Officer of African Wildlife Foundation.

“There isn’t enough ivory in the world to satisfy current demand”, says Sebunya, “so as long as a market exists for ivory, you can be sure that an elephant somewhere is dying to sustain it. Elephants need their ivory, and the world needs elephants. We, at African Wildlife Foundation, will continue to call for the closure of all ivory markets and to speak up for elephants, which need our protection today more than ever.”

With the reported increased activity on the domestic ivory market, no domestic trade regulations and two convictions for illegal trade in ivory, it remains difficult to see how New Zealand is implementing the CITES 2016 decision urging domestic ivory trade closures.

In a positive move, the New Zealand delegation to the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade made a formal commitment to “assess the need for regulation of New Zealand’s domestic ivory trade”.

About the Author:

Fiona Gordon is a New Zealand based environmental policy analyst and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.  She has undertaken research into the international and domestic ivory trade since 2014. Fiona was principal researcher and co-author of the 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) “Under the Hammer” which provided the results of the first ever investigation into the nature of the auction house trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Australia and New Zealand.




JUNE 2019

“Stealing Their Future” 

Fiona Gordon

On her whistle stop “Rewind the Future” tour of New Zealand, internationally renowned conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall tells me that she has met many young people who have lost hope in the future and have become apathetic.  Dr. Goodall then makes a poignant point “we haven’t been borrowing our childrens’ future, we have been stealing it, and we are still stealing it today.”

Indeed, it’s impossible to ignore the science and yes, it’s depressing.  Climate change and biodiversity loss has placed us all smack-bang in the middle of a planetary emergency.

The recent report on global biodiversity from the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has made it clear that nature is humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’ and that ‘safety net’ is stretched almost to breaking point.

Unfortunately the messages in the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report from the Ministry for the Environment largely mirror this international assessment.

Our own ecosystems are in crisis.  Almost 4,000 of our native species are at risk or threatened with extinction.

Horizons Regional Council’s State of Environment Report 2019 released on 28 May, notes that almost all the river water monitoring sites in our region fail water quality criteria for phosphorus, bacteria and clarity.  Only 500 of the 1,109 biodiversity remnants have been ‘visited and evaluated’.  We can also expect changes to annual average rainfall, reduced summer river flows in the Manawatu and a faster programme of work to offset changes to river sedimentation due to climate change.

We can slice and dice the information any which way we choose but we get the same result:  a paradigm shift is required.  Remaining deniers need to step aside.

For far too long so called ‘greenie’ issues have been relegated to the ‘tree huggers’ and the ‘sock-and-sandal-wearers’.

This convenient deflection has no doubt provided short term economic benefits, but the reality is that this approach hasn’t worked for any of us.  Mainstreaming environmental priorities into our everyday decision making is now a necessity, for people and planet.

Enter, hope.  Our kids have found their voice and apathy is turning into action.  Youth have the smarts – they ‘get’ what the majority of previous generations chose to ignore – without nature we are all doomed.  So, how can we support this generation so ready and willing to right this ship?

It clear that central and local government actions alone will not be enough to reverse environmental decline.  Collaboration and partnership across all sectors of society will be key to addressing biodiversity loss and climate change.

Fortunately, new coalitions are emerging.  I was heartened to watch as Dr. Goodall endorsed and signed the Aotearoa Deal for Nature on 23 May, an unprecedented agreement across six of Aotearoa’s non-governmental organisations, the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand, Forest & Bird, WWF NZ, Greenpeace NZ, the Environmental Defence Society, Environment and Conservation Organisations of Aotearoa (ECO).

It’s an ambitious plan setting out minimum priorities and actions for protecting and restoring New Zealand’s imperilled wildlife and environment.  Such agreements provide a much needed sliver of hope amongst all the doom and gloom of recent environmental reporting.

Op-Ed Published in Manawatu Guardian 6 June 2019

Guardian 6 June 2019


New Zealand Government Assessing Need for Ivory Trade Regulations

By Fiona Gordon – Director of Gordon Consulting and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.

Five fishermen casting their rods, two hauling in their nets, six seated buddhas, intricate pagodas and an army of miniature immortals. There’s perhaps one hundred of them in total.  Each a lifeless creamy white, sitting silently on their un-unique wooden bases.  Some look remarkably similar, almost identical.  Some appear just like the ones at another antique shop a few hundred kilometres away.  So similar in fact that one could be forgiven for thinking they might be from the same artist or manufacturer.

Only one of them is noted as ‘antique’.  There’s no reference to age whatsoever for the rest. They don’t sit for long inside their glass display cabinets. The ivory at one New Zealand auction alone soon disappears out the door for around NZD $10,000 (USD $6,600).

It is a matter of opinion as to whether the purchase price is extortionate or not, but these little ivory trinkets were undoubtedly obtained through lethal extortion.  Whether 100 years ago or yesterday, the African elephant brutally slaughtered for her ivory tusks would not have been compliant, she would not have willingly given her life. Nor that of her baby’s, killed for her tiny tusks or to draw in the rest of the herd or left to die of stress and starvation.

The African elephant was listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1976 after it was observed that the international trade in ivory was drastically reducing their population. Even with international regulation on trade, elephant populations continued to crash. The situation was so dire that in 1989 CITES put in place a total ban on the international commercial trade in ivory.

Since the 1989 ban thousands of elephant ivory carvings, ivory pieces and tusks have been legally imported into New Zealand for non-commercial purposes.  Surprisingly, CITES data shows that over 60 per cent of these imported ivory items are not noted as pre-1976 (pre-Convention), instead noted as being sourced from the ‘wild’ or of ‘unknown’ source.  Most of this ivory arrives from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and some from Mozambique or it is re-exported from Great Britain, Australia.

While clearly imported specifically for non-commercial purposes, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, any ivory legally imported after the 1989 ban can legitimately be sold on New Zealand’s domestic market.   This is irrespective of the purpose listed on the import permit, as that purpose relates to the reason for the item entering New Zealand at the time of import. The Department confirms that no restriction is placed on the future sale of the specimen.

This would seem to fly in the face of the 1989 international trade ban and an unsuspecting New Zealand public would likely be horrified to learn that their domestic market could well include ivory from recently killed elephants.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of the African Wildlife Foundation(AWF), Kaddu Sebunya, “Africa has only about 460,000 elephants left. The ivory trade is fuelled by demand in countries such as New Zealand and it is deeply disappointing that the market for ivory is thriving. It’s time that the New Zealand government outlawed the sale of all ivory and gave African elephants a chance.”

These matters fall on the deaf ears of New Zealand auction houses who cleanse their conscience by protesting that they deal in ‘old’ ivory and are operating within the law.  They explain that they can tell the age of an ivory item due to their years of experience. They explain that the ivory they sell is collected from various sources including estate sales and second hand shops within New Zealand.  They explain that artist signatures on ivory items indicate a ‘finer example’ and will typically command a higher price, but are not necessarily related to a particular period or date. They comment that they rarely undertake research into such matters.

With such confidence it is surprising then that New Zealand auction houses rarely provide any statement, let alone any verifiable evidence, as to the age or source of the ivory they sell or note the name or history of the artist that produced the so-called ‘beautiful pieces of art’.  With or without such statements, auction houses command between 15% – 35% plus tax on the hammer price of every lot sold via vendor commission and buyer premiums.

In any case, should an auction house choose to make a statement as to the age or source of the ivory for sale,  their policies ensure that neither they nor the seller are responsible for the correctness of any statement as to the authorship, origin, date, age or provenance of any lot.  Any statements they provide are ‘statements of opinion’ and are ‘not to be relied upon as statements of representations of fact’.  Potential buyers are required to ‘satisfy themselves by inspection or otherwise’ as to such matters.

Any inquiry by Department Officers will likely go around in circles.  Without domestic ivory trade regulations, officers must first hold reasonable grounds to believe an item has been illegally imported before being able to investigate, request documentation or other evidence relating to the trade.

With little more than a photo in a catalogue to base any judgement on and where ivory appears to be of ‘a type commonly traded and imported’, there can be little to suggest an item has been illegally imported.  Where inquiries are made and should it transpire that the ivory was purchased locally prior to being listed for sale at the auction house, the Department will likely be satisfied that the items were ‘legally obtained’.

According to Sebunya, “New Zealand is a classic example of how legitimizing some aspects of ivory trade opens doors for illegal trade as well. We will continue to lose African elephants unless governments get serious about completely outlawing ivory trade thus crushing demand.”

Indeed it is not just plausible but fact that thousands of dollars-worth of illegally imported ivory has already slipped through New Zealand’s border, some of which was sold on the domestic market under the guise of legality.

New Zealander and Past Chair of African Wildlife Foundation, David Thomson, says,“New Zealand has the reputation as a world leader in conservation of its land, forests, bird life and oceans and our conservationists are respected worldwide.”  Thomson considers that, “as an international participant in conservation and a respected signatory of CITES we should be monitoring the trade in all wildlife products, especially ivory and rhino horn.”  He adds, “it should not be difficult to add clarity to our regulations about the import and trade of ivory and it should be an obligation of our justices to prosecute the trade of illegal wildlife parts. We are stringent in applying the law if a native species is abused and we need to join hands with our international community to do likewise.”

In a positive move, the New Zealand delegation to the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade made a formal commitment to “assess the need for regulation of New Zealand’s domestic ivory trade”.

For a country renowned for its conservation acumen, thousands of people are saying it is way past time for New Zealand to sharpen up its act.  Every domestic ivory market only serves to fuel demand and undermines the considerable resources being invested on the ground in Africa to protect her elephants from slaughter.

They stand there quietly, perhaps 30 of them.  Each stunningly unique, with their individual personalities, memories, histories and family bonds.  Intelligently caring for each other, sharing knowledge of waterholes and feeding grounds with their dependent young.  Some will move along ancient corridors only at night now, afraid to travel during the day, least the poachers see their tusks. They are Africa’s elephants. They are priceless.  They are worth protecting.

About the Author:

Fiona Gordon is a New Zealand based environmental policy analyst and an Ambassador to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand.  She has undertaken research into the international and domestic ivory trade since 2014. Fiona was principal researcher and co-author of the 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) “Under the Hammer” which provided the results of the first ever investigation into the nature of the auction house trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in Australia and New Zealand.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: Journal Of African Elephants 2nd May 2019

New Zealand ‘Called Out’ on Ivory Trade

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 6.47.35 PMFiona Gordon 10th April 2019

The Chief Executive Officer of the African Wildlife Foundation, Kaddu Sebunya, has called out New Zealand for maintaining its domestic ivory trade.  And it’s an utterly fair call.  Put simply, Africa’s elephant population remains under grave threat from the continued international demand for ivory and New Zealand can rightly be asked to clean up its act. 

“There is no [ivory] consumption on the continent [Africa],” says Sebunya, “so New Zealand, Japan, Europe and North America need to take on this responsibility.  The internationalization of issues means that we must all make choices to protect Africa’s wildlife.”

To date the New Zealand government has chosen to do very little, aside from officially voting in support of the closure of all domestic ivory markets at a meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2016.

But we haven’t “walked the talk”.  Our domestic ivory market remains completely unregulated, leaving us wide open to unscrupulous traders who launder illegally imported ivory under the guise of legality.   Not merely a possibility, this scenario was evidenced in 2015 with the second  conviction of a New Zealander for illegal trading in ivory.

Sebunya notes that in New Zealand, “carved ivory fetches high prices at auction houses and antique shops, and many items are re-exported under lax regulations and could re-enter the market, fueling demand.”

His assessment is spot on.  Late last year a New Zealand auction house sold approximately 110 ivory carvings for a total of just over NZD $10,000 (not including buyer premium) – at just one auction.

Sebunya explains why countries including New Zealand need to ban the domestic trade in ivory before it is too late for Africa’s elephants, “stopping ivory trade without international coordination is like squeezing a balloon — if the domestic market of one country closes, it bulges in another consumer country”.

New Zealand’s on-going inertia to close its ivory trade is an embarrassment and is in stark contrast to many other countries putting in place domestic bans for ivory, including China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

Pressure on New Zealand to take action is not new, but it is building.

The previous government received an Open Letter in 2014 asking the Government to fully consider stopping ivory trade.  In 2018 Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and Department of Conservation Minister Hon Eugenie Sage received an open letter from the Jane Goodall Institute of New Zealand calling for a stop to domestic ivory trading.  The letter was signed by Dr. Jane Goodall, Kaddu Sebunya, Rt. Hon Helen Clark, Patron to the Jane Goodall institute New Zealand, international and national conservation agencies, and African based non-profits working to protect her elephants.

“In the midst of the 6th mass extinction and a human induced climate shift that threatens life as we know it, we must acknowledge responsibility, mobilise for action and work collaboratively.  These must become the new ‘currency’, if we are to make positive and global change” – Fiona Gordon 10 April 2019.

TAKE ACTION: Add your voice to the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand No Domestic Trade campaign 

4 Oct 2018 OPEN LETTER – the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand

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URBAN EELS – Bringing Nature to the People

Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas.  With that proportion  expected to increase to 68% by 2050  it is clear that effective conservation will depend in large part on support from these urban voters, consumers, donors, and communicators.

Conservation then faces an obvious challenge: People living in cities have diminishing contact with nature.  We must look to create new, innovative and engaging ways to re-connect urbanites with nature.

Of course, many city dwellers already choose to seek out nature. Here in New Zealand, for example, we can choose to walk amongst the ancient forest of the Dusky Track in Fiordland National Park,  kayak the “sea of rippling waters” that is Lake Waikaremoana, or cycle the historical Otago Central Rail Trail – these are some of the wonderful trips I have been fortunate enough to personally enjoy.

I say fortunate, because while these experiences offer up much needed opportunities to re-connect and re-energise away from the hustle, bustle of the city, they do come at a price.  These adventures certainly didn’t happen for me without some careful planning and budgeting.  It can be difficult to take a week or two off work and not everyone can afford to travel great distances to these stunning locations.

Yet, crucially, future conservation success will need as many people as possible to appreciate their vested interest in it.  The true value of nature can be realised when it is both experienced and better understood.  This will require more contact, more often, by the majority of the people – the mainstreaming of nature back into our social, cultural, physical and economic landscapes.

Accessibility is key.  Time to bring nature to the people, not the other way around. 

What started as an idea to do just that, back in 2016, is now a fully fledged project set to be created within the city landscape of Palmerston North, New Zealand.

“Urban Eels: Our Sustainable City” will create a new space for nature within the urban fabric, making nature more accessible and providing interpretation and education though the expression of the Maori  world view. 

There will be native eels to observe and feed (if you dare), interpretive art work and sculptures and interactive features to enjoy, along with enhanced native planting and improved in-stream habitat.   All uniquely focused on the enduring relationship between man and tuna (eel)  and the importance of ritenga (customary practice), tikanga (customary system, law) and Rangitaanenuirawa (the expression of Kaitiakitanga or stewardship).

Māori are keen to express their cultural world views, and understanding these beliefs and values represents an important aspect of sustainable development in New Zealand.

For a people who relied on seasonal foods, tuna (eel) was a gift from the gods.  Tuna maintain a special place in Māori culture and are an important part of preserving the practice of cultural traditions.  Sadly, the longfin eel (tuna kawharuwharu or tuna reherehe) is in steady decline due to the historical destruction and degradation of its habitat.  Historically, long-finned eels were reported as weighing as much as 40 kg yet today tuna bigger than 10 kg are uncommon.

While tuna still inhabit our local streams, declining populations mean few people readily encounter tuna and some even consider them “scary”.  Urban Eels will not only create an improved space for tuna, but help to re-connect urbanites with nature, enable Māori to express their cultural world view and help to educate and re-acquaint people with the enduring relationship between man and tuna.

Intended to attract purposeful visitation and encourage the ‘accidental immersion’ of commuters alike, Urban Eels is strategically located at the Turitea Stream along the He Ara Kotahi – a shared pathway which forms a key route in Palmerston North’s urban transport network, connecting Linton Military Camp, Massey University and FoodHQ to the city.

Urban Eels is a collaboration between Gordon Consulting and Tanenuiarangi Manawatū Incorporated, the mandated iwi authority for Rangitaane O Manawatu since 1989, and working in partnership with central and local government and other key organisations.  Urban Eels draws it’s inspiration from the IUCN Urban Protected Areas and work of the IUCN Urban Specialist Group.  


Urban Eel Signatories

Collaborative Partners

Urban Eels Sponsors