The International Ivory Society was formed as an association of collectors, dealers, curators, scholars and artisans in the mid-1990s to share information about ivory. Godfrey Harris was the third person to be asked to join the fledgling organization. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed tightening restrictions on the trade and movement of objects made from or containing ivory — at the urging of the Clinton Foundation —Harris formed the Society’s Political Action Network in 2013 to ensure that its members had a voice in Washington policy making.
Harris offered to apply his 45 years working with government to protect ivory’s historic, artistic, and practical place in our culture. During those years, Harris served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer; a U.S. foreign service officer with diplomatic assignments in Europe, Latin America and Africa; a member of President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Office; a government relations specialist for a Geneva-based international financial company; and as the chief executive officer of a public policy consulting firm.
Eventually, the Fish and Wildlife Service began proposing specific changes to regulations that interpreted a variety of laws that were detrimental to anyone owning or dealing with ivory. Harris felt that he needed a more robust platform from which to organize opposition to these proposed changes. As a result, he founded the Ivory Education Institute, a California-based, non-profit, public benefit association, dedicated to enhancing understanding of the importance of ivory. As such, donors could deduct their contributions from their federal and state income tax obligations. The IEI currently counts about 200 participants.
The Institute has undertaken a number of projects over the past 4 years to educate the public and opinion leaders on ivory’s historic and cultural role as well as to improve ivory’s status in the scientific community.
- It published a “Declaration” of ivory’s significance, a White Paper on “Ivory’s Cultural Importance”, and a “Statement of the Policy Positions of the Ivory Education Institute” for delegates to the CITES Conference of Parties 17 in Johannesburg.
- IEI sponsored a study by Dr. Dan Stiles to analyze the connection between the “Ivory Trade, Terrorism and U.S. National Security.” We felt we needed some solid ground to counteract the oft repeated but unproven statement of Mrs. Clinton that the illegal ivory trade funds international terrorism activities. Stiles concluded that it does not. The Institute also sponsored the preparation of three booklets by Cara Meskar on the importance of ivory black in Western art, why the U.S. 100-year antique rule makes no rational sense, and why U.S. rules prevent the sound preservation, conservation and restoration of ivory objects.
- In 2015, IEI organized the Ivory Forum, a two-day gathering in Washington, DC of all groups and individuals who opposed the changes in ivory rules then being proposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service and supported by a range of animal rights groups. The Forum attracted more than 25 participants, including representatives of many collateral collecting organizations as well as the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International and the National Association of Music Merchants. The Forum resulted in a lobbying strategy that focused on legislation that would prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service from spending any money on any new regulations it might adopt.
- The Institute sent a delegation of three to the tri-annual CITES Conference of Parties where it took an active role in Committee 2 panels to defeat the World Wildlife Fund and other NGOs intent on having all types of ivory banned from trade forever. Although it was successful, no one knew of the victory because the NGOs baldly proclaimed and publicized their own “victory” at CoP17. How could there be two winners? The other side claimed that just getting the issue of banning ivory on the agenda was a great victory for those intent on protecting elephants. And so it was accepted by the public. As a result, we determined to find a way to have our side of the ivory discussion heard. After discussions in Windhoek, Namibia, in July 2017, a project called AFRICAN. LET IT! was conceptualized.
- In 2016, the Institute engaged Dr. Adolf Shvedchikov, the retired Chief Scientist of the Low Temperature Plasma Chemistry Laboratory at the Institute of Chemical Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, to develop a non-destructive, non-invasive, relatively quick and comparatively inexpensive method to determine both the type and age of different ivories and popular ivory substitutes. After more than 500 experiments conducted over 1000+ hours of laboratory time, Shvedchikov created a desorption protocol that worked consistently in distinguishing elephant ivory from such other forms as walrus, boar, mammoth, narwhal and hippo as well as from bone, ceramics, plastics and wood.
Simultaneously, Shvedchikov supervised experiments in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in Albany, New York, involving the photoluminescence of ivory and ivory substitutes using the spectrographic readings of a light emitting diode laser. This totally non-destructive, non-invasive targeted approach could focus on ivory decoration without have to remove it or try to distinguish its desorption properties from any surrounding material. The second approach for aging and typing of ivory is called the LISDAT™ method — the Luminescence of Ivory For Spectroscopic Determination of Age And Type. The experiments using the LISDAT™ method have demonstrated reliably and consistently that the luminous intensity of an object is different for each type of ivory and ivory substitute, as well as for its age. IEI believes LISDAT™ can be patented and licensed to raise funds for the Institute’s on-going work. It also thinks it will be instrumental in the development of the Mechanism for Ivory Pricing currently under development.
- In 2015, the state of California passed legislation banning the trade and movement of all forms of ivory (save, for unknown reasons, the ivory of a boar’s tusk) within the state. We had worked long and hard to prevent passage of the law in the California legislature and petitioned the governor not to sign the legislation. But when AB 96 became part of the State’s Fish and Wildlife Code, the Ivory Education Institute immediately filed suit against the State of California to prevent implementation of the law. We argued that the law was constitutionally flawed. Specifically we said it took property without due process and that it declared something illegal that was perfectly legal at the time of acquisition — both specifically prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. We also argued that since elephants do not roam the wilds in California, it was not germane to the interests of the state’s citizens and therefore prohibited by the State’s basic charter. The judge found against us on technical grounds and did not comment on any of the substantive points we had raised.
As a result, we decided to appeal the case to force the judicial system to deal with the substance of the issues. The suit is on-going and a decision by the Second District Appellate Court will probably be rendered sometime in middle 2018. Because the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Wildlife Conservation Society aas well as the State of California are defending the appeal, there is no doubt that should the appellate court side with the Ivory Education Institute that the matter will go to the California Supreme Court for ultimate resolution.
In order to keep costs down, the Institute has NO permanent staff. It is managed under contract to Harris/Ragan Management Group (the consulting firm associated with Godfrey Harris.) Specialists are hired by the Institute, as needed, for specific tasks such as research, social media management, legal matters and so forth. As a result, the Institute is able to devote nearly 100% of the funds it raises to the substance of its many programs.
September 25, 2017