The UK government is set to introduce one of the toughest bans on ivory anywhere in the world. The ban will cover ivory items of all ages, even those that were made before the international trade in ivory came into practice. The maximum penalty on breaking the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.
Conservation and environmental groups have celebrated the news, as while the sale of ivory taken after 1947 was already illegal, shockingly the UK has remained the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory. The UK exports more ivory than even Hong Kong and China, and many suggested this trade is stimulating the demand for ivory, encouraging modern-day poaching, and providing cover for the illegal ivory to enter the market.
“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,” says the UK’s Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
“The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past.”
There are, however, to be some exceptions, although Gove says that these have been significantly narrowed following consultation with conservation groups and antique dealers. The ban will not cover items with less than 10 percent ivory by volume and made before 1947.
Musical instruments with less than 20 percent ivory and made before 1975 – when the trade in Indian elephant ivory was officially banned – will also be exempt. In addition, antiques that are deemed the “most important items of their type” might also be allowed. However, there will be strict regulations on this, with each item having to be at least 100 years old and assessed by specialist institutions. The activities of and between museums will also be unaffected.
With over 20,000 elephants killed every year for their ivory despite international bans, the need to act is urgent. The move by the UK government comes after China, the largest market for ivory, finally brought into effect its own ban on the product, although there's some debate about potential loopholes in it. The US has also been toughening its own stance.
With the international community finally beginning to come together on this issue, it is hoped that something can be done to prevent these majestic animals from being wiped out altogether.