As the largest exporter of ivory in the EU, as well as allowing a thriving legal ivory trade at home, the UK plays a major role in feeding consumer demand for ivory. This makes the UK a complicit player in the ongoing poaching that is driving elephants to extinction in the wild.
The government pledged in two election manifestos – in 2010 and 2015 – to bring about the complete closure of the UK’s domestic ivory market. In September 2017 it said it would announce a consultation in the new year, but that never materialized. Finally, on 6 October 2017, the government announced a proposal for a total ban on ivory sales in the UK, to be preceded by a 12-week consultation to allow all interested parties to take part in the process.
In pushing for a total ban on ivory, environment secretary Michael Gove said: ‘The decline in the elephant population fuelled by poaching for ivory shames our generation. The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute. These plans will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory.’
Fighting the ban is the antiques trade, which wants to continue selling antique (defined as pre-1947) ivory. The trade maintains that there is no connection between the sale of antique ivory and the poaching of elephants, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary (for instance Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s 2016 documentary of his undercover investigation of the ivory trade). In article after article in the Antiques Trade Gazette, antique dealers have advanced alarmist and misleading arguments about the ban – such as the claim that it will harm our cultural heritage (false); that items will be destroyed, defaced or removed (false); that the antiques trade will suffer or collapse if ivory can’t be sold (false). But behind these smokescreens, traders’ *real* concern is that ivory items will lose their monetary value and be rendered commercially worthless – this is true, and of course the whole point of the ban.
The facts are inarguable: any legal trade in ivory perpetuates the illegal trade and poaching, and if elephants are to survive and come back from the worst sustained killing of a species in history, the closure of ALL ivory markets globally is a critical and urgent step.
Action for Elephants UK has been the leading grassroots group in the UK fighting for a ban on the ivory trade. Since 2015 we have held numerous protests on the street, at auction houses, outside DEFRA, Downing St and Parliament, and have written open letters to 2 prime ministers. We enthusiastically welcome this ban that’s been such a long time coming, and look forward to its speedy and full implementation in 2018.
Ivory: The Grey Areas – A Study of UK Auction Houses – The Missing Evidence
UK ivory trade ban would have minimal impact on antiques industry
CITES ivory trade system is flawed and drives poaching
Legal ivory sale drove dramatic increase in elephant poaching, study shows
The Case Against a Legal Ivory Trade: It Will Lead to More Killing of Elephants
October 2015: Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron with over 100 signatories.
September 2016: Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May with 125 signatories.
The Guardian wrote about this letter and the issues surrounding poaching and ivory bans.
January 2017: Follow-up letter to Theresa May
The Guardian reported on this letter and the UK trade
7 Oct 2017: Letter to Theresa May
Hopefully our last letter calling for a UK ban! We delivered this to No. 10 Downing St on the day of our Silent Protest in Parliament Square – a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of elephants and rhinos brutally slaughtered in the name of human greed.