The Ivory Act
this ‘world-leading’ legislation must finally deliver vital protection for elephants
IFAW UK Director James Sawyer on why this much-delayed piece of legislation is intrinsically linked to the future of wild elephants, and why every effort must be made to ensure it is effective and enforceable.
Back in December 2018, the UK Ivory Act was passed, following many years of tireless campaigning by animal welfare and conservation groups, and with overwhelming support. Heralded by the Government as ‘world-leading’ legislation designed to protect elephants from further slaughter, this momentous victory for animals was roundly welcomed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and many others. More than three years on, the
Ivory Act is still not in force and elephants continue to be poached at a rate of around 20,000 per year. In recent years, ivory trade bans or measures restricting trade to various degrees have been introduced in several other countries including the US, Hong Kong SAR, China and Israel. The EU is also snapping at the heels of the UK, having introduced its strongest measures yet to restrict ivory trade when the European Commission announced a revised regulation and new guidance last December. Shortly after this, the UK Government announced that the UK ban would be delayed until spring of this year. It is imperative that the legislation that is brought into force is as strong and effective as possible, without loopholes that could allow trade to continue, and put elephant populations at further risk of extinction. IFAW’s message has always been clear – every piece of ivory represents a dead elephant, and we believe ivory should only be valued on a live elephant, not as a trinket or carving that nobody needs. Legal ivory markets provide a smokescreen for illegal ivory trade and directly impact elephants on the ground, with more animals being poached to meet consumer demand and new ivory often being marketed as old. Once the Ivory Act is in force, it will be illegal to “deal in” elephant ivory, with very limited exceptions. The intention of the Act is to stop all commercial activities involving ivory across the UK and its borders. However, after the UK Government claimed it would not be illegal to “gift, donate or bequeath” items of ivory, IFAW is now urging them to ensure individuals determined to continue trading ivory are not able to circumvent the ban. A snapshot study by IFAW carried out in 2021 found more than 900 ivory items being traded in the UK over a two-week period alone, ranging from jewellery to ornaments and walking stick handles. With so many UK citizens supporting this ban and rejecting ivory ownership, there is a huge amount of ivory that people wish to give up and see destroyed to prevent it re-entering the market. With the expectation of a further surge in ivory donations around the time of the ban coming into force and beyond, IFAW urges the Government to introduce a comprehensive system to manage public donations of ivory as part of the UK ivory ban. IFAW has previously carried out ivory surrenders in the UK and around the world and we have seen the difference they can make. We believe that if the Ivory Act is to live up to its billing as ‘worldleading legislation’ then it must be supported by effective enforcement and a system for safely removing unwanted ivory from future markets. With an elephant killed for its ivory every 26 minutes, there is no more time to waste. To find out more about IFAW’s work to end the ivory trade and protect elephants, visit ifaw.org