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Protected Species & CITES

As knifemakers, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to the materials that we can use to fashion our knives. Should an item be protected by CITES or any other legislation, we can easily find alternative materials to substitute and still maintain the highest quality standards.

Like many other makers, I receive orders from international clients and need to export/send knives outside of South Africa. Depending on the materials, there is a real risk that Customs could confiscate knives. I hope that by having an honest discussion with clients about the regulations surrounding certain materials they will be open to switching to a different or alternative material.

As part of my commitment to my clients and conservation, I adhere to the principles of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Read my full article (What Knifemakers need to know about CITES).

This is not meant to preach or to condemn other makers who choose to use these materials. I’m simply putting my viewpoint forward.

African Blackwood

African Blackwood / African Grenadilla (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is native to the seasonally dry regions of Africa, from Senegal eastwards to Eritrea and southwards to the northern parts of South Africa. African Blackwood has been added to the Convention of International Trade for Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II effective Jan 2, 2017. This means the wood is now considered endangered and all trade will be controlled and certified.

What does this mean for sales/purchases of products with African Blackwood?

  • In most countries, CITES export documents are required for wood or products of that species to be taken out of a country and allowed entry into another country.
  • Buying and Selling African Blackwood products within your own country (South Africa) currently has no limitations.

I’ll continue to purchase African Blackwood from Prosono Hardwoods as I know Ettiene and the team ensure full compliance and certification documents for their woods. This means documents will be available for export.

Ivory (African Elephant, Warthog, Hippo, etc)

The word “ivory was traditionally applied only to the tusks of elephants. However, the chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same regardless of the species of origin, and the trade-in of certain teeth and tusks other than elephants is well-established and widespread. Therefore, “ivory” can correctly be used to describe any mammalian tooth or tusk of commercial interest which is large enough to be carved or scrimshawed.

In 1989, the international trade of ivory was outlawed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES has an enormous role to play in protecting one of the world’s most iconic animals – elephants – and indeed there are 11 items on the CoP18 agenda relating to elephants and ivory. Under current regulations, all commercial trade in elephant ivory is banned.

  • On July 1, 2013, Former President Barack Obama issued an executive order declaring a near-complete ban on international commercial trade in elephant ivory, and in July 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s revisions to the Endangered Species Act went into effect, further restricting the international import and export of African elephant ivory.
  • On 6 June 2022, the long-awaited Ivory Act 2018 was implemented, making it illegal to sell elephant ivory to, from and within the UK, with limited exemptions. Hippos, killer whales, sperm whales, narwhals and walruses are set to be included in the ban.

As part of my commitment to CITES and the conservation of our country’s natural heritage, no natural ivory of any type will be used. I’ve purchased Elforyn’s Super Tusk, which is a man-made ivory substitute which I’ll use going forward.

In addition to this, a percentage of the proceeds from each knife featuring Elforyn Super Tusk, will be donated to ongoing conservation efforts. Selected Organisation: Elephants Alive!

Mammoth Ivory

As an extinct species, the mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is not protected under CITES, which only covers currently endangered species. The rise in trade in mammoth ivory poses an indirect threat to elephant populations in the wild by creating a simple way to enable trade in “laundered” elephant ivory. We have witnessed increased lobbying to place restrictions on Mammoth in recent years.

It should be noted that stabilised African Elephant tooth blocks are being produced and sold locally in SA. This looks very similar to fossilised Mammoth molars in a finished product.

As such, I’ll no longer use Mammoth molar or fossiled ivory as part of my builds unless it is from Raffir. Raffir sources their fossils from a few distinct sources, they collect them in person and have access to carbon dating equipment, meaning they can assure their clients that Raffir Fossils are not elephant.