Museums exempt as ivory trade ban comes into force


Francesca Collins, Museums Association

Date Published

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The UK’s new ivory ban has made it illegal to deal in items containing or made of elephant ivory unless the items qualify for one of five listed exemptions, including an exemption for Accredited museums.

From 6 June, dealing in ivory may be met with a maximum fine of £250,000 or five years’ imprisonment under the Ivory Act 2018. Dealing encompasses buying, selling, hiring or facilitating the trade of ivory.

An exemption applies to selling or hiring ivory items to qualifying museums. The museum buying or hiring the item must be a member of the International Council of Museums, or Accredited by or on behalf of Arts Council England, Scottish ministers, Northern Ireland Museums Council or the Welsh Government.

If an item is owned by a qualifying museum and is being acquired by another qualifying museum, it does not need to be registered or certified prior to the transaction.

Four additional exemptions account for:

— Portrait miniatures made before 1918 with a surface area smaller than 320 square centimetres
— Musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20% ivory by volume
— Items with low ivory content made before 3 March 1947 with less than 10% ivory by volume
— Rare or important items, made before 1918 and of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value.

Individuals can still own ivory for display or for personal use, as well as being able to give away ivory items as gifts or in a will, provided that no payment or exchange is involved.

Alistair Brown, policy manager at the Museums Association, said: “We’re pleased to see the ivory ban come into force, and that the UK Government has recognised the important role of museums in preserving and collecting examples of historic worked ivory that are of significant cultural value. We will continue to work with members to monitor how the ivory ban works in practice.”

Around 90% of African elephants have been wiped out over the last century, largely due to the ivory trade. Only around 415,000 wild African elephants are alive today.