End of the UK Ivory Trade?

Born Free has given a cautious welcome to the announcement by Environment Secretary Michael Gove of a Government consultation on plans to ban the trade in ivory ‘of all ages’ in the UK.

Born Free’s co-founder and President, Will Travers OBE, said: “With more than 20,000 African elephants being slaughtered each year for their ivory by poachers, and elephant populations plummeting, action by the UK government is long overdue. We encourage Ministers to implement the proposed measures without further delay.”

The global community has recognised the need to shut down the ivory trade, with the United States, China and Hong Kong having taken or initiated action to close their domestic ivory markets. Over the last few years, the UK has become the largest exporter of ‘legal’ ivory products, with over 36,000 ivory items leaving the UK between 2010 and 2015, many destined for markets in the Far East. Any trade in ivory fuels demand and provides a means by which new ivory from slaughtered elephants can be laundered into trade.

The announcement suggested that some products containing ivory, such as musical instruments and items of significant cultural importance, might be exempt from a ban.

Born Free’s Associate Director, Mark Jones, added: “We applaud the Government’s recognition that action is needed to curb the trade in ivory of any age. However, more details are needed around possible exemptions. For example, how old would an exempt musical instrument need to be and how much ivory might it contain? And who is to decide whether an item is of sufficient ‘cultural importance’? We need to ensure that any exemptions do not put elephants at further risk from poaching, through stimulating demand or providing a means by which ivory from other sources can be leaked into the trade.”

In addition, Born Free is deeply concerned that during the consultation period, ivory will rapidly leave the country before any new regulations are agreed and are implemented. The Foundation urges the government to take a number of key interim steps with immediate effect, including a moratorium on all ivory exports, and a requirement that all ivory currently held by dealers be inventoried so that the authorities know what is held and by whom.

Notably, there is no mention in the government statement of what penalties for future trading may look like and Born Free believes it is essential that those caught illegally trading ivory in the future should be subject to deterrent fines and custodial sentencing, as is the case in many African counties.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks. Born Free will be urging Government to publish submissions it receives as part of the consultation to ensure transparency and so that all perspectives are taken into account.

Born Free is clear that only a comprehensive ban will have the desired effect, and that any exemptions are kept to a minimum.  

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