A new law banning the sale of ivory products in the UK from today is a “historic moment” in the protection of elephants, according to the government.
But while it’s widely welcomed by conservationists, some worry it doesn’t go far enough to protect other species.
It took four years for the Ivory Act 2018 to be implementedand groups such as the charity Born Free say the delay has allowed the ivory trade to not only continue, but to find new ways to exploit the animals.
A joint statement from 14 conservation NGOs says: “Given the known threats to elephants from the ivory trade, it is regrettable that implementation of the UK Ivory Law has been so slow.
“In 2017, the UK was revealed to be the world’s largest exporter of antique ivory, particularly to China and Hong Kong – two hotspots for the illegal ivory trade. As of today , the UK is adding its name to the ever-growing list of countries banning ivory trade in their domestic markets”.
The Ivory Act means fines of up to £250,000 for anyone illegally selling ivory from, to or within the UK.
Some items may still be sold under an exemption, including portrait miniatures, musical instruments, low ivory items, sales to qualifying museums, and rare/important items.
Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “The coming into force of the world-leading Ivory Act represents a historic moment in ensuring the survival of elephants across the world for future generations.
“Thousands of elephants are needlessly and cruelly targeted each year for their ivory for financial gain.
“As one of the toughest bans of its kind, we send a clear message that the trade in elephant ivory is totally unacceptable.”
‘Shocking’ amount of ivory on UK market
Unsurprisingly, the internet has become a major market for unscrupulous traders, and a report commissioned by Born Free highlights the size and scope of the online ivory market in the UK.
Within a month, the charity uncovered 1,832 open and secret online listings containing ivory, worth an estimated £1.1million. Of the listings that sought to sell ivory disguised or depicted as something else, 95% were on eBay UK, a platform that already prohibits the sale of ivory. Many of these secret items were mislabeled as “bones”.
Frankie Osuch, policy support manager for Born Free, says: “I know the ivory trade is a global problem, but I was shocked at the number of ivory items I found here at UK.
“It is important to assess the demand and value of ivory as this has been linked to elephant poaching rates. I hope the new penalties associated with the Ivory Act will be enough to encourage compliance by all traders”.
eBay says it uses complex algorithms to identify “code words” used to disguise the sale of ivory products.
“eBay is a founding member of the Coalition to End Online Wildlife Trafficking,” a spokesperson said. “We have worked for many years to combat the illegal trade in elephant ivory and work alongside WWF and IFAW to continuously update our policies and processes.
“We have dedicated global teams to enforce our policies, and over a recent two-year period, we blocked or removed over 265,000 ads prohibited under our Animal Products Policy.”
The report suggests that elephant ivory may still be sold under the guise of other species, and that the risk to species not carrying elephant ivory (such as walruses, narwhals and hippos) could increase as sellers attempt to exploit “legal alternatives”.
As a result, several conservation charities and NGOs are calling on the government to expand the ivory ban to include ivory of other species, and to ensure that the associated penalties are sufficient to deter people from harm. deliberately label ivory products.