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UK to ban most commercial trade in ivory

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The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) welcomes today’s announcement by the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Rt Hon Michael Gove, of his plans to introduce legislation to ban most commercial trade in ivory within the UK. This is a significant step in the global campaign to save elephants from extinction following DEFRA’s consultation last year. DSWF supporters were among the record-breaking 71,000 individual respondents and the 67,000 more who signed petitions calling for a complete ban on ivory sales.

Karen Botha, CEO said “DSWF has been campaigning for a global ban on ivory trade for over 25 years. For the best part of two centuries elephants have been slaughtered in huge numbers to supply the ivory trade. Over 100 million elephants have been lost over the last century. This is our last chance to save them.

DSWF is concerned, however, that the ban fails to go far enough. Although we applaud the announcement, it is imperative that we look at the potential short term impacts.

DSWF Senior Adviser, Robert Hepworth, former Chair of the CITES Standing Committee, commented “ We hope Ministers will want to stop an antique ivory exodus from the UK to countries abroad where it can be legally sold. The EU is an obvious destination prior to Brexit whilst they debate their own potential ban. Within the UK there are also risks of a “fire sale” of cheaper carved ivory as owners seek to offload it before its commercial value is extinguished. The Government needs to be ready to use existing powers under the CITES legislation to counter these risks.” 

Roz Reeve, of DSWF, said “Elephant populations are still in serious decline. Given the urgency of the situation, it is critical that the ban is passed into law without delay. Otherwise unscrupulous dealers could attempt to offload their stocks before the ban comes into effect. We urge the Government to fast-track legislation and put it before Parliament at the earliest possible date.”

If enacted, the ban will be amongst the strongest in the world.  However, whilst DSWF welcomes today’s news, we consider the exemptions proposed by DEFRA will still provide an opportunity for the ivory trade to continue in the UK. To ensure ivory is no longer seen as a profit-making commodity or a status symbol, exemptions to the ban should be kept to the absolute minimum and we will be examining each one carefully to assess their impact.

Although DSWF recognises this monumental step forward for domestic ivory markets at this stage we have two concerns. First, only a small minority, averaging less than 20% of the individual respondents, expressed support for any of the main exemptions proposed by the Government last year. The majority of the UK public would clearly support a near total ban.

Secondly, DSWF encourages Ministers to readdress the proposal to permit exemptions from the ban on the advice of experts for “ a fairly small number of ivory items that are of outstandingly high artistic, historic or cultural significance”. We oppos a commercial exemption specifically on the grounds of artistic, cultural and historic value. We are concerned that the exemption for private sale proposed by the Government would allow the most exquisite, high-priced, carved ivory to be advertised, auctioned and sold to the highest international bidder. We believe an exemption allowing only accredited museums to purchase such items (also proposed by DEFRA) is sufficient to preserve such outstanding artefacts, if they cannot be acquired by donation or loan. DSWF urges the Government, and ultimately Parliament, to reconsider this exemption.

DSWF has strong connections to the world of art. Our founder, David Shepherd CBE FRSA, who passed away in September last year established our Foundation as a means to protect the elephants and other endangered animals which he painted so distinctively. David himself believed that the majority of artists, galleries, traders and owners of art would want to join the rest of the community in putting elephants first, and accepting that this will mean an end to ivory products having a commercial value, or being available on the open market.

While DSWF is appealing to the Government to narrow the proposed exemptions further, we do recognize that this is a significant step towards saving elephants. It is critical to step up global pressure, and the UK is in a better position to do this following today’s announcement.. However, it is vital that other governments now follow suit with similarly tough measures, particularly the EU, which recently carried out its own consultation. The closure of major markets must not allow traders to move to neighboring domestic ivory markets which remain legal. A co-ordinated international approach is imperative.

Today’s announcement is the first step towards ensuring the UK implement robust measures for the preservation of this iconic species and we will continue to campaign for a comprehensive and total ban on the ivory trade.

Photo Credits: Top to bottom, James Kydd, Theo Bromfield, James Kydd




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