Born free’s latest ivory investigation

Our most recent UK ivory investigation reveals an encouraging reduction in ivory listings, but there is still work to be done.

A photo of a wild elephant

Born Free’s first investigation into the online ivory trade in the UK, outlined in ‘Are Ivory Sellers Lying Through Their Teeth?’ was conducted in November 2021, prior to the implementation of the Ivory Act, which prohibits the import to, export from and internal trade in most elephant ivory items. Our second investigation, ‘A Tooth for a Tooth?’, began in June 2022, the day the Act commenced.

In June this year, exactly a year since the Ivory Act 2018 was implemented, we carried out a third investigation to see how the UK online ivory market has changed.

As with the previous studies, this latest investigation aimed to provide an indication of the scope and scale of ivory items available online, by looking at item listings across popular sales websites over a period of a month. This year, the investigation was expanded to include an additional two websites and more search terms. Doing this captured more ivory listings, providing a more accurate snapshot of the online trade, while also allowing comparisons to previous investigations by considering the data obtained from the original three websites investigated using the original methodology.

Our investigation found that the total number of ivory listings has decreased since our first study. This is likely because the trade in elephant ivory to, from and within the UK became illegal in June 2022, with limited exceptions.

A graph of the number of listings in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Although the total number of elephant ivory items was higher compared to the previous investigation, this was due to there being many more exempt items, such as antique portrait miniatures, being advertised for sale during this investigation. This is reflected by personal items and household goods forming the majority of listings in this investigation.

Total number of listings Percentage
Jewellery 18 3%
Ornaments 99 16%
Personal items 169 28%
Household goods 318 53%

The number of illegal ivory listings (those that could be determined as elephant ivory but would not meet the exemption criteria in the Ivory Act) was significantly lower in this investigation, suggesting that most of those advertising elephant ivory items for sale are complying with the new rules.

A graph of the number of exempt and non-exempt elephant ivory listings.

It was also encouraging to find that many elephant ivory sellers, mostly auction houses, voluntarily declared an ivory exemption certificate reference number. Of all identified elephant ivory listings likely to qualify for an exemption, 95% declared a reference number. Born Free continues to recommend that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) makes this declaration mandatory to help deter non-compliance.

A pie chart of the proportions of elephant ivory, non-elephant ivory and unknown species listings.

Although elephant ivory was still the most common type advertised, ivory derived from non-elephant species remains a concerning part of the online ivory market in the UK. We call on DEFRA to make good on their promise to extend the Ivory Act to hippos, walruses, narwhals, sperm whales and orcas without delay. We also call on DEFRA to consider further extending the Ivory Act to include warthogs, the trade in which is not currently regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Species Number of ivory listings
Elephant 433
Unknown 69
Warthog 37
Sperm whale 21
Walrus 13
Mammoth 12
Hippo 9
Narwhal 5
Unknown marine 5

Although our investigations are limited by search terms and small sample sizes, our findings indicate that the Ivory Act is having a positive impact on reducing the online ivory trade in the UK.

Born Free will continue to monitor the implementation of the Ivory Act and push for protections to be extended to more ivory-bearing species.


Image © George Logan