Will DOC force an historic ivory cabinet to be destroyed?

Radio NZ report:

A rare piece of art-history furniture featuring elephant ivory inlays could be destroyed because its paperwork arrived in New Zealand late.

Known as the ‘Pompeiian Cabinet’, the sideboard was made by Johann Levien for the 1862 Exhibition in South Kensington, London. 

The cabinet was purchased by emerging Auckland collector Patrick Soanes, but it was seized by NZ customs because of incomplete paperwork when he had it shipped to New Zealand. 

Furniture historian William Cottrell claims Soanes had done all the paperwork, but it all came down to a missing rubber stamp on the British end.

“What had originally happened was that Patrick had declared there was ivory in it, but a paperwork problem at the shipping end in London meant that that document wasn’t completed.”

He says the paperwork got sent to an empty warehouse and then returned to London, but by the time the cabinet turned up, the document had expired.

“The cabinet was shipped out here and the paperwork arrived after lockdown had started, so it never got delivered to the warehouse with the cabinet, and then that paperwork got returned, it had expired, even though it was incomplete and British customs had cleared the cabinet for export anyways.”

However, Department of Conservation (DOC) national compliance manager Marta Lang argues that is not quite what happened.

She acknowledges Soanes had a permit but claims he didn’t present it to border officials when it left the UK.

“So regrettably, this cabinet was illegally exported from the UK. His permit also had to be physically presented when the Cabinet arrived to New Zealand in March last year and it wasn’t, so it was also illegally imported into New Zealand.”

So he emailed NZ officials to let them know the cabinet was en route but without its permit and it hadn’t been endorsed, she says.

“We said get the original permit to New Zealand as soon as possible. He sent it by royal mail instead of international courier and the cabinet a month later … the permit had not arrived.”

DOC says it has seized the cabinet in the interests of protecting endangered species, under the Trade in Endangered Species CITES agreement.

This is madness. So the permit was sent by mail instead of courier. Who cares. The cabinet is 150 years old. The elephants involved have been dead for 150 years. Moving a historic cabinet from London to NZ is not encouraging people to kill elephants.

This is a classic bureaucratic madness. Someone in Government should use some discretion rather than waste more time on this.

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