UK ivory ban must inspire further international measures, take the commerce out of ivory trade and pay attention to the plight of hippos
Born Free today welcomes the long-awaited announcement of a ban on the commercial trade in elephant ivory within, to and from the UK. However, Born Free is seeking greater clarity about the appointment of a special regulator who will manage the accreditation of exempt items*.
Born Free's co-founder and President, Will Travers OBE, said: "We applaud the government for its recognition of the need for the UK, which has been the largest exporter of ‘legal’ ivory items in recent years, to take action on commercial ivory trade. African elephant range states, the international conservation community, and the British public, have all been calling for a comprehensive ban as the only way to help end the poaching epidemic which threatens the very future of wild elephants. We implore Parliament to pass the proposed measures into law without delay.”
Born Free believes the proposed online ivory registration process establishes, importantly, that the burden of proof now resides with the applicant. Furthermore, the range of penalties and fines for those who offend should have a suitably deterrent effect.
According to the government, the provenance of items exempted due to their rarity or cultural/historical importance, will be determined by independent advisors who will be accountable for their decisions.
Travers said: “In practice, it will be essential that anyone who seeks to trade ivory or facilitate the trade in ivory – including those who are responsible for its certification – must be held to account. Only a robust and highly precautionary approach will prevent these exemptions becoming loopholes that traffickers can exploit.”
Africa's elephant numbers have plummeted from perhaps five million a century ago, to less than half a million today, and upwards of 20,000 continue to be killed across the continent by poachers each year to supply criminal networks with ivory. Asian elephants, where only the males carry ivory and which number below 30,000, are also targeted for their tusks.
The UK has, in recent years, been the world's biggest exporter of legal ivory, largely in the form of antique worked items which have been in big demand among Asian buyers. This trade stimulates demand for ivory products and provides traffickers with a means by which they can launder new ivory from recently slaughtered elephants into trade.
Travers concluded: “Ending legal commercial trade in all ivory products is vital if we are to provide hope for beleaguered elephant populations. We need all countries that continue to operate legal markets and act as sources of ivory in international trade to step up and introduce similar measures to those announced here in the UK and, in particular, we urge the European Commission to announce far tougher restrictions on trade within, between and from EU countries without delay.
“We must also take into account the impact that closing elephant ivory trade and markets could have on other ivory bearing species. For example, indications are that trade in poached hippo ivory is on the rise and official data confirms that since 2006 more than 50,000kg of hippo ivory was released into trade – this from a species that may number as few as 130,000 individuals. Tackling the trade in ivory from other threatened species, such as hippos, narwhals and walruses, needs to be part of our immediate plan.”
Born Free has been campaigning for a global ban on commercial trade in all ivory products since 1989. The charity's advocacy, awareness-raising and public mobilisation efforts have played a major part in informing recent decisions and persuading the UK government to take action. Born Free will continue with these efforts until the poaching of elephants and other ivory-bearing species has been brought to an end, and their future secured.
*Exempt items will include: