UK Ivory Act to extend to hippos, walruses & whales

23 May 2023


Born Free applauds today’s announcement by the UK Government of its intention to extend its domestic ban on ivory trade to hippos, walruses, narwhals, sperm whales, and orcas.

The Ivory Act, which passed into law in 2018 but was only implemented in June last year, introduced some of the world’s strictest restrictions on elephant ivory trade. Born Free has campaigned for an end to the global ivory trade for more than 30 years and lobbied hard to convince the government to shut down the trade into, from and within the UK – which was until recently one of the biggest markets for elephant ivory and ivory products.

Responding to the announcement, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones said: “While the Ivory Act goes a long way towards protecting elephants, we have always raised concerns for other ivory-bearing species, and highlighted the possibility that restrictions on elephant ivory trade could inadvertently drive demand for hippo and walrus ivory and whale teeth. Hippos are particularly at risk since their tusks are so similar in composition to those of an elephant, and the demand for hippo ivory is already threatening their conservation. Walruses and narwhals are also targeted for their tusks. We need to protect these animals from further exploitation before it’s too late, so this announcement from the UK government is very welcome and will hopefully set a precedent that other countries will follow.”

Hippos are threatened with extinction, with fewer than 130,000 remaining across Africa, yet over the past decade almost 30,000 teeth and tusks, and around 13 tonnes of hippo teeth and ivory by weight, have been officially traded between countries including the UK. Many more hippo tusks are believed to be traded illegally.

Walruses number around 112,000 globally. Some 12,000 walrus tusks or teeth and many other products besides were officially traded internationally, including to the UK, over the past decade. Walruses face an uncertain future with global warming and concomitant sea ice declines, so any increase in demand for their teeth could have serious consequences.

As few as 123,000 mature narwhals may remain in the wild. They are hunted in Canada and Greenland for human and animal food and for the male narwhal’s single spiral tusk. Thousands of narwhal tusks and products manufactured from them have been exported around the world over recent years.

Teeth from sperm and killer whales are also highly valued and traded internationally, although currently the taking of teeth is usually secondary to other causes of death. However, measures to ensure demand for trade does not further threaten these species are vital.

Born Free’s Policy Support Officer Frankie Osuch, who conducted investigations into the online trade in ivory before and after the Ivory Act was implemented which revealed an alarming increase in hippo ivory sales, added: “This is an important step towards ending the demand for, and trade in, all ivory products. The teeth and tusks of wild animals should not be simply treated as commodities, and it essential for legislation to reflect that. There is also growing scientific evidence to suggest that preserving wildlife, particularly large mammals, is needed to combat the climate crisis. The UK needs to do all it can to protect these animals in the wild through introducing and improving legislation such as this.”

Born Free will continue to monitor the implementation of the Ivory Act to evaluate its impact. We will also continue to push for the addition of further species such as warthogs, which are not currently protected under international wildlife trade regulations but whose teeth are traded in large quantities.

Find out more
22 September 2022 – A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH?
On Elephant Appreciation Day, a new Born Free report revealed that illegal online ivory sales persisted and hippo ivory trade had increased despite Ivory Act implementation: