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Letter to Andrea Leadsom, DEFRA minister – Nov 2016

16 November 2016

Rt Honorable A Leadsom MP
Dept of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Noble House, 17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR

Dear Ms Leadsom,

We are a grass-roots advocacy group for elephants and are here at DEFRA today to call on the UK government to implement a full ban on the domestic ivory trade.

The Conservative Party pledged in its election manifestos in 2010 and 2015 to ‘press for a total ban on ivory sales’. It is now six years since the original promise was made and your party has failed to implement it.  Within those years, over 144,000 African elephants have been poached for their ivory. Unless this slaughter is brought to an end, elephants in the wild may be heading for extinction in 20 years or less. 

The UK is currently Europe’s largest exporter of carved ivory to Asia. Significant amounts of ivory are also sold through online marketplaces in the UK. As long as such marketplaces exist, they will continue to perpetuate the cycle of supply and demand that fuels poaching.

The UK antiques trade is disingenuous in questioning the link between the sale of old ivory and current poaching. It has been clearly proved that recently poached ivory is being sold in the UK under the cover of a legal trade. Most recently, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall showed in his BBC investigation into the international ivory trade that illegal ivory is being sold in the UK, and that this fuels the ivory trade in other markets. Furthermore, it is impossible to monitor and check every ivory item sold in all the auction houses, markets, fairs, and online in the UK, and to carbon-date them all for proof of age. Nor can the law rely on antique dealers’ experience, as it is also proven that methods for artificially ‘ageing’ new ivory can fool even the experts. 

It’s time to close the loopholes, and not let the commercial interests of a small group take precedence over the survival of this remarkable species.

In September 2016 the government announced it would crack down on the sale of ‘modern’ ivory, while still allowing the sale of pre-1947 ivory. This half-measure will not stop the trade, and sends completely the wrong message domestically and internationally that it’s ethically acceptable to trade ivory. Given what we know of the catastrophic collapse of elephant populations in recent years from unprecedented levels of poaching, a complete and global ban on ivory is the only chance for their survival. 

At the recent CITES CoP17 conference in Johannesburg, delegates adopted a resolution which recommends that all countries with a domestic trade that’s linked to illegal international markets should close their domestic markets as a matter of urgency’. Why is the UK government not throwing its full weight behind this resolution?

With evidence that ivory from the UK is sold into the markets of Asia, both stimulating and providing potential cover for freshly poached ivory, we call on the government to announce a total ban on the UK ivory trade, including pre-1947 ivory, at the upcoming Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade.

It’s time for the government to fulfil its manifesto pledge and commitment made at CoP17, to shut down the domestic ivory trade immediately. 

We look forward to your reply.


Maria Mossman

Action for Elephants UK