Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

UK ivory ban

Posted: 3 April 2018. Updated: 14 November 2019


Update, November 2019: Good news, the High Court has upheld the UK Ivory Act following a legal challenge from the antiques industry. On the first day of the legal hearing in October, ADI joined Action For Elephants UK to show our support for the ban, and against perpetuating this deadly trade, which fuels illegal sales and poaching.

Consumer demand has been fuelling both the legal and illegal trade in ivory, contributing to the global decline in elephants, with 20,000-30,000 elephants killed every year. There are now one-third fewer elephants than there was 10 years ago; a shocking statistic.

In December 2017 the UK Government held a public consultation on the ivory trade. Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said: “Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations.”

More than 70,000 consultation responses were received, ADI and our supporters responding that a ban on the UK ivory trade must mean a FULL ban, without exemptions that continue to give value to ivory and perpetuate its demand.

The UK Government published the findings on 3 April 2018, reaffirming its intention to introduce an ivory ban and providing clarification of exemptions to the ban originally proposed, which are as follows:

  • De minimis: Items with less than 10% ivory content and made prior to 1947 can still be sold.

  • Musical instruments: Items with less than 20% ivory content made prior to 1975 can still be sold.

  • Rarest and most important items of their type: Items must be at least 100 years old and their rarity assessed by a specialist.

  • Museums: Only accredited commercial activities may take place.

The exemptions are not the toughest in the world, but go further than regulations of many other countries. Although ADI and our supporters urged that the exemptions go further, we are pleased that at least in some places they have been tightened.

The Ivory Bill was published on 23 May 2018. In the House of Commons, MPs raised concerns that the exemptions may provide loopholes that could be exploited, with detailed guidance on these demanded. ADI has previously highlighted concerns that exemptions can provide a cover for the illegal trade to operate, and fuel demand for ivory, and called for these to be addressed. The Bill was also criticised for failing to protect other vulnerable species threatened by poaching, including hippos and walruses. The Government said they will consult on this, which has taken place, the findings of which are waiting to be published.

Following discussion at committee stage in the House of Lords, proposed amendments resulted in no significant changes, avoiding further weakening of the bill which had been feared. Exemptions for items where ivory content is less than 10% or pre 1918 items deemed “outstandingly valuable and important” were also not extended further. Speaking at the third reading of the bill in the House of Lords, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch welcomed the government’s commitment to looking at extending the ban to other species, such as hippos, whales and walruses, urging them to consult on this matter “as soon as possible”. The amendments considered by both Houses, on 11 December the bill was passed and subsequently gained Royal Assent, banning most ivory sales within 6 months.

More international cooperation is needed to end the global trade of ivory and killing of elephants.

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