Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Parliament debates call for domestic UK ivory trade ban

7 February 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Wildlife Trade News

On Monday 6th February, the UK Parliament debated the crisis facing Africa’s elephants and the need for government action to ban the internal domestic trade in ivory for the second time in two months.

The Westminster Hall debate, which was attended by over 30 Members of Parliament in spite of the concomitant Brexit debate in the main chamber, was scheduled after more than 100,000 members of the public signed Ellen Cobb’s e-petition calling on the Government to shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK. Before the debate began, a group of campaigners staged a rally outside Parliament at which Born Free’s Dominic Dyer and Mark Jones both encouraged urgent Government action.

The vast majority of MPs who spoke, representing all the major political parties, supported the call for a ban. Many MPs including Conservatives Luke Hall, Pauline Latham and Owen Paterson, Labour MPs John Mann, Justin Madders, Rachael Maskell and Mary Glindon, and Scottish Nationalists Dr Lisa Cameron, Patricia Gibson and Dr Paul Monaghan, passionately pleaded for action to halt and reverse the devastation that ivory poaching is causing to individual elephants, their family groups and populations across Africa. In particular, they pointed to as yet unfulfilled Conservative Party commitments in its 2010 and 2015 manifestos to ‘press for a total ban on ivory sales’, and the fact that the UK and the European Union have fallen behind other countries that have already introduced bans, or announced their intention to do so.

In a disappointing response, DEFRA Minister, Thérèse Coffey, repeated the Government’s intention to launch a public consultation on plans to introduce a ban on worked ivory items obtained or manufactured since 1947, which was first announced in September 2016. She did indicate that the consultation would give respondents an opportunity to comment on whether pre-1947 worked items (antiques) should also be banned, although when pressed for a launch date she would only say the consultation would begin “as soon as possible”.

Born Free’s President Will Travers OBE, who attended the debate with colleagues, said:

“While the Minister’s response to the debate was distinctly underwhelming, I would like to pay tribute to the petitioner Ellen Cobb and all those who promoted and signed the e-petition. The UK is one of the largest exporters of legal ivory products. This trade fuels global demand and allows illegal ivory from elephants, massacred by poachers, to be laundered into trade. The survival of our largest land mammal may well depend on whether the UK and other governments around the world are prepared to grasp the nettle. Once again, we urge the Government to set aside commercial considerations and take the initiative by banning all trade in ivory without delay.”

African elephants are declining at an alarming rate, as poachers massacre them in their tens of thousands for their ivory. Just 415,000 are thought to remain across the continent. While international commercial trade in ivory was banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the ban only applies to cross-border trade and many domestic ivory markets have remained open. Ivory obtained before the CITES ban is not covered, and CITES sanctioned the sale of government-owned ivory stockpiles from southern Africa to China and Japan in 1999 and again in 2008. This ivory has been slowly released into those markets ever since. These anomalies have fuelled demand for ivory products, and created ‘loopholes’ by which ivory can still be traded and through which illegal ivory from slaughtered elephants can be laundered into trade.

The UK remains one of the world’s biggest exporters of ‘legal’ ivory. Between 2006 and 2015 the UK declared exports of over 25,000 ivory items, mostly for commercial purposes, around a third of which were exported to China.

With so many elephants being killed, there’s been increasing recognition that all ivory markets, both domestic and international, must be shut down. In June 2016 the US announced a near-total ban on ivory. Last September, the World Conservation Congress (IUCN) passed a motion calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets across the world, which was closely followed by a similar Resolution by CITES the following month in South Africa. In December, China confirmed that it would close its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017. Most African elephant range States also support the closure of ivory markets; the 29 member countries of the African Elephant Coalition have welcomed China’s decision and urged the EU and UK to take action

Travers continued:

“We’re not here to put people out of business. But no decorative ivory statue, no name stamp, no family heirloom should ever be considered more valuable than a living elephant. If we want to continue to share our world with these magnificent creatures, and for them to thrive for generations to come, we MUST persuade our government to take action, make good on its election promise, and lead the world by banning all UK trade in ivory without delay.”

The Born Free Foundation will continue to push the UK and international Governments to take action on ivory trade.

Born Free Foundation
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