Time For The Prime Minister To Act On Ivory


Philip Mansbridge, UK Director for IFAW, Huffington Post UK

Date Published

It wasn’t so long ago that the Conservatives launched their glossy manifesto for the 2015 General Election. Standing proud amongst the list of promises was the clear pledge to press for a total ban on ivory sales.

A report released by TRAFFIC last week on the size and scale of the domestic ivory market in the UK serves as a very good reminder why the new Prime Minister Theresa May should get one of the elephants in the room off her list post-Brexit, and make this ban happen now.

Internationally, the sale of ivory has been banned for some time. A ruling at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989 ruled it illegal under the convention for new ivory to be traded across borders by uplifting the status of ivory to Appendix 1, which in real terms constitutes a trade ban. Since then it has been illegal to sell ivory across borders, apart from two separate one-off permitted sales which were authorised in 1997 and 2000. These sales did the exact opposite of what they set out to achieve; the idea was that by flooding the market with ivory, this would lead to reduced value, reduced demand and in turn a reduction in poaching. Unfortunately, the sales did little more than increase the value of ivory, increase demand and increase poaching!

Despite the ban, and the learnings from the one-off sales, as CITES regulations only apply to international trade, domestic trade in ivory isn’t covered under CITES regulations, hence the need for the manifesto pledge and hence why you can still buy what is known as antique ivory or pre-convention ivory.

But with just weeks to go before the next CITES convention in Johannesburg, and with new figures just released which show that the state of the African elephant is actually even worse than predicted – the Great Elephant Census counted just over 350,000 elephants in the surveyed countries – now really is the time to act. To put this number into perspective, in 1979 it was estimated there were 1.3m African elephants in the wild and around 600,000 in 1989. Although this census missed some key habitats owing to access to data or political instability, the figures tell us enough to raise some serious concerns.

TRAFFIC’s report showed that Britain accounts for a staggering 31% of the total EU market in ‘legal’ ivory sales. From 1860-1920, Britain led the carnage and destruction of elephant populations. Around 30,000 tonnes, equivalent to more than one million elephants worth, of ivory was imported to satisfy our desire for ‘white gold’. It is much of that ivory that is still traded today, but current legislation doesn’t do enough by far to guarantee that the ivory currently traded, right here in our markets, antique shops and auction houses, isn’t from one of the estimated 35,000 African elephants slaughtered for their tusks each year – you read that right – that’s one every 15 minutes.

The report also confirmed that these dual markets of legal and illegal are confusing for all concerned, as is any dual market. The report showed that some traders are confused about the legislation still, that there is no real requirement to show documented proof of age or proof of legal acquisition and the whole market just isn’t policed. Generally as a rule of thumb, if traders are confused then the buying public are very confused!

For many of us it does seem kind of strange that there is still an ivory market of any kind. There’s nothing pretty about seeing the remnants of a dead elephant on your wrist or mantelpiece. For most it isn’t only times that have changed – our attitudes and understanding have too.

So, it’s time to call time on ivory. It’s time to act on the very clear manifesto commitment from our governing Party and it’s time for us to do our bit to save those last remaining elephants that really need our help right now.

You can show your support for elephants, and help send a message to the Government that it’s high time for the ban, by joining IFAW, Action for Elephants, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Saving Rhinos and Born Free as we, and hundreds of like-minded elephant lovers on the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, march to 10 Downing Street on Saturday 24th September. At the end of the march we will deliver a letter to the Prime Minister calling for the ban. To take part, join us at Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PR at 11am.