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123-year-old antique piano stripped of ivory keys, owner vows to fight back

An English immigrant has vowed to fight an order to pay for the "vandalism" of his 123-year-old antique piano, which ...

Posted: Jul 31, 2018 9:25 AM
Updated: Jul 31, 2018 9:25 AM

An English immigrant has vowed to fight an order to pay for the "vandalism" of his 123-year-old antique piano, which had its ivory key tops removed and dumped by New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DoC).

The piano, which belongs to University of Auckland professor Julian Paton, had its key tops removed by the DoC last Thursday after being seized in 2017 for breaking the country's ivory laws.

Paton moved to New Zealand with his wife and two children, bringing the piano along with the rest of the family's belongings. He bought the antique for his wife more than 30 years ago as a birthday present, and his children had been learning to play it back in England.

However, the piano was impounded upon arrival due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. Under CITES regulations, owners of antique ivory can seek exemption from the law by applying for an export permit.

Paton was unaware of this requirement, and did not apply for the permit. However, he insists that he had followed proper procedures, even hiring a piano expert to examine the piano in England and submit a report to New Zealand immigration authorities.

"We were diligent," Paton told CNN Monday. "We went out of our way to make sure we could legally import the piano to New Zealand. We absolutely deny any wrongdoing whatsoever."

"We fully uphold the ban on the ivory trade," Paton added -- he is more upset by the "level of bureaucracy" that has impeded what he believes is "an exceptional case."

By the time the piano was seized, it was too late to apply for the permit, as it had become "an illegal good."

Paton then began a long campaign to save the antique, appealing to Epsom MP David Seymour. Seymour also decried the impounding, and lobbied the DoC and Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage, to no avail.

"I'm embarrassed as a New Zealander and as a local MP that this is how we welcome people, by confiscating their family heirlooms so their kids can't play piano," Seymour told the Herald, accusing the DoC of committing "vandalism."

"I think that the Department of Conservation have been incredibly lazy. Basically they don't want to use their discretion because then they'd have to make hard decisions sometimes."

Despite Paton and Seymour's efforts, Sage supported the DoC's decision, telling local media, "New Zealand needs to play its part. I sympathize with Professor Paton about his piano but support the Department's decision."

The strict enforcement of CITES regulations was necessary "to help protect elephants from ivory poaching," Sage wrote on Twitter.

The DoC told Paton that the ivory keys will now be buried, and have ordered him to pay for the removal of the ivory and collection of the piano, according to Paton. Although Paton has agreed to pay those costs, he intends to challenge the payment of a third administrative fee.

"It's like rubbing salt in the wound - it's most unfair," Paton said. "It's a step too far. This whole situation is just beyond belief."

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