Positive news! Last Friday, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced an end to the trade in ivory of all ages.
The BBC reports that previous attempts would have excluded antique ivory produced before 1947, but advocates said that presented loopholes for poachers who continue to hunt and kill endangered species for their tusks.
When announcing the plan, Gove said the repeated cycle of poaching “shames our generation.” Environmental advocates have welcomed the move.
Even though the UK has a ban on the trade in raw ivory tusks, it is presently the world’s leading exporter of legal ivory carvings and antiques.
Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 36,000 items exported from the UK, according to an Environmental Investigation Agency report. That’s nearly three times than the next biggest exporter, the United States.
Conservationists pushed for a stricter ban, as they said sales of ivory — regardless if they were obtained prior to 1947 — stimulate the demand for the product. This is important, as the African elephant is predicted to go extinct within the next decade.
Prince William’s support lent weight to advocates’ desire for a harsher ban to be instated. In 2016, he urged the UK to pass a total ban on domestic sales.
He said at the time, “Ivory is not something to be desired and when removed from an elephant it is not beautiful. So, the question is: why are we still trading it? We need governments to send a clear signal that trading in ivory is abhorrent.”
Though his advice was heeded, following attempts to ban the sale of ivory failed to take off. The ban on sales of ivory produced after 1947 was announced by former Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom in 2016, but the follow-up consultation never happened.
On the contrary, a 12-week consultation on Gove’s proposals is likely to start immediately. Draft legislation covering a ban on sales and exports of ivory of all ages is likely in the new year.
Said Gove in a statement:
“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.” The Environment Secretary added that the proposals will put the “UK front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory”.
To the people, the number one concern is the 20,000 elephants that are poached for their ivory every year. To the government, other concerns are more pressing.
The BBC reports that in 2018, Britain is set to host a “major” illegal wildlife conference. If Britain were to continue allowing a domestic market in ivory, while countries like China are pressing down on the illegal ivory trade, it would be “embarrassing.”
According to Gove, there will be four categories of ivory items allowed for sale: musical instruments, items with only a small proportion of ivory, items that hold historical importance, and sales between museums.
Some conservationists are worried these allowances are too broad, and will continue to stimulate poaching. While this may be true, at the very least, Britain is making an effort to cut down on the illegal ivory trade.