A tooth for a tooth?

22 September 2022


On Elephant Appreciation Day, a new Born Free report reveals that Illegal online ivory sales persist and hippo ivory trade has increased despite Ivory Act implementation.

A young elephant calf leans in towards its mother for protection

Born Free investigation into the immediate impact of the UK’s long-awaited Ivory Act, has identified hundreds of ivory items still being sold online. Alarmingly, the report also uncovers a disturbing increase in the sale of ivory from hippos, and other threatened species, not protected by the new legislation. 


The introduction of the legislation in June 2022 placed the UK at the forefront of elephant conservation efforts, with one of the toughest domestic bans on ivory in the world.

Assessing the effectiveness of this long-awaited Act is a priority for Born Free, as we’ve been campaigning for legislative change to protect elephants from poaching for more than three decades. We have also consistently pointed that, in its current form, the Ivory Act does not prohibit trade in ivory from non-elephant species, such as hippos and warthogs. Therefore, it is crucial the impact of the ban on other threatened ivory-bearing animals is also thoroughly examined, evaluated and brought to the attention of the public.

A photo of a group of elephans drinking from a river where a hippo is also swimming, with its mouth openOur compelling new report A Tooth for a Tooth? analyses data from three prominent UK online sales platforms in the month following the implementation of the Ivory Act. The investigation identified 621 individual online ivory listings, with a staggering total guide price of over £1.2m. Thankfully, this is a substantial decrease in the volume of ivory found by Born Free’s previous investigation, Are Ivory Sellers Lying Through Their Teeth?, conducted prior to the introduction of the legislation. This early indication suggests the new law has successfully reduced the volume of elephant ivory being traded online.

Shockingly, however, nearly half (49.8%) of the 621 listings were found to be illegal or probably illegal elephant ivory. The remaining listings did appear to meet the strict exemption criteria outlined in the Ivory Act or were judged to be sourced from non-elephant species.

It is the analysis of the non-elephant ivory listings that proves the most alarming discovery. While elephants remain the most common source of ivory advertised, there is an early indication that the trade in non-elephant ivory products may already be increasing in response to the ban. A Tooth for a Tooth? identified more non-elephant ivory items than the previous investigation. While numbers do remain relatively low, it is of particular concern that the number of hippo ivory listings were found to have doubled. Hunting for ivory is a primary threat to hippo populations, with their teeth often regarded as a substitute for elephant ivory. Born Free, along with other conservation organisations, has been calling for the Ivory Act to be extended to other ivory-bearing species, particularly hippos, since before the Act gained Royal Assent in 2018. In light of this report, Born Free considers this a matter of urgency.

The 621 ivory items outlined in the report were identified across three online sale websites: Barnebys, a popular auctioneer and antique dealer search engine; eBay UK; and specialist online marketplace, Antiques Atlas. Compared with the previous report, significantly more items are now being listed covertly (277 pre-ban and 353 post-ban), worryingly many were purposely mislabelled as “bone”. This may demonstrate a concerning level of reluctance to comply with the Act, rather than a lack of awareness of it.

Online marketplace eBay has shown a particular and welcome willingness to combat the ivory trade on its website. Following the release of Are Ivory Sellers Lying Through Their 

Teeth?, eBay reached out to Born Free, and subsequently the charity shared with them the data used for A Tooth for a Tooth?. As a result, eBay removed all the listings which had not already been dealt with by their monitoring team. Most of the removals resulted in warnings to sellers; however, there were also several account suspensions. A keyword analysis of the listings also meant that two new phrases were added to their ivory search term list as a direct result of our findings.

A Tooth for a Tooth? concludes that the Ivory Act does appear to have successfully reduced the amount of elephant ivory products listed online across three sales sites. However, it highlights a concerning number of illegal ivory items continuing to be advertised covertly in the UK. Due to these findings Born Free is calling on the Government to strengthen enforcement of the Ivory Act to encourage greater compliance among traders. It also urges policy makers to include hippo ivory, and ivory from other species such as warthog, in the definition of ivory within the Act without delay to afford these species the same protection as the elephant.

As further investigations are needed to establish the trends emerging as a result of the Ivory Act, Born Free will continue to monitor the application of the law in the coming months.

Frankie Osuch, Born Free’s Policy Support Officer and author of the report states, “It’s encouraging to see that many sellers appear willing to comply with the new Ivory Act as well-enforced ivory bans are crucial for protecting wild elephants. However, it’s frustrating to see that some auction houses and private dealers are instead choosing to find ways to evade detection on platforms so that they can illegally continue selling ivory online. It’s crucial that both the Government and e-commerce websites take action to ensure that any continuing ivory trade at least complies with the law.”

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy adds, “While welcoming the implementation of the Act, we remain concerned that the system of identifying and preventing the covert trade in illegal ivory is not currently robust enough to ensure that th UK is doing all it can to protect elephant populations. The uptick in ivory from hippos and warthogs should also provide further impetus to extend the protection afforded by the Ivory Act to these and other ivory-bearing species without delay.”