In June 2018 we submitted comments at the Committee Stage of the UK Ivory Act, addressed to DEFRA minister Michael Gove. Our letter is recorded in Parliamentary Publications: Written evidence submitted by Action for Elephants UK (IVB10)
12 June 2018
Dear Michael Gove,
As a grassroots group that has campaigned for 4 years nonstop for a UK ivory ban, we write to you today first to express our deep gratitude to you and all MPs who worked hard to get this bill to Parliament, and also to submit our comments to the HoC Public Bill Committee.
As we watched the bill’s second reading in Parliament on 4 June, we could hardly believe it as MP after MP, from all parties, stood up to condemn the ivory trade and speak out for the survival of elephants, and to push for the tightest possible exemptions. There was much elation in our ranks that day!
The one sobering, tragic note is the knowledge that this should – and would – have come about much sooner, were it not for the Conservative Party bowing to pressure from the antiques trade. In the 8 years since the Conservatives first promised in their manifesto to ban the trade, it is estimated that at least 240,000 elephants have been killed, and the UK became the leading exporter of worked ivory – all under your party’s watch. There are big lessons to be learned, and we hope to never again see such dilatory tactics from the government when it comes to protecting a species facing extinction.
We would like to offer these comments for consideration at Committee stage:
1. Other ivory-bearing species
Many MPs were emphatic in calling for other ivory-bearing species to be included in the bill, with hippos and narwhals being the two most cited. But, surprisingly, one of the most endangered species to be hunted for its ivory-like body part did not get a mention: the helmeted hornbill. This bird is facing extinction due to poaching for its ivory-like bill, which is highly prized. Please ensure that this species is also included in this bill, if it is to be saved.
2. Online trade
As this grows exponentially, it has become a chief driver of extinction along with live capture and consumptive use of endangered species. While the creation of the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, with members like Google, eBay and Facebook joining forces with conservation groups, is a hugely welcome step, how effectively are its members’ commitments being monitored? It is well known that Facebook continues to allow illegal wildlife trafficking on its platform, and furthermore is knowingly profiting from it. A month after FB joined the coalition, trafficking investigators said they had seen no decline in the sale of illegal products on its platform, and FB continues to place corporate ads alongside illegal posts. It has never been easier to buy body parts of endangered wildlife – elephant ivory, tiger skins, bear claws, even rhino horn are just a few such items that can be readily bought with a click. (In May, two US Congressmen wrote to the SEC to request an investigation of FB’s illegal activities and profits.)
While this issue will, we hope, be high on the agenda of the London IWT conference, we believe that online trade in ivory must also be duly considered in the formulation of the UK ivory ban.
We think you’ll agree that we risk seeing the gains made by the closing of physical, land-based ivory trade being increasingly undermined by the online trade.
3. Development aid for conservation/environment
We agree with those MPs who called for an increase in aid to African countries for managing and saving their wildlife, and the need to tackle root issues like poverty and environmental degradation, to enable communities to benefit from and become stewards of their wildlife. Zac Goldsmith decried the minuscule amount of the Dept. for International Development’s budget that goes to this, pointing out that the UK is ‘miles behind countries such as Germany, the USA and others when it comes to funding restoration of ecosystems, tackling wildlife crime and protecting the environment. There is a link between poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability-that is well established and unarguable. That must now finally be reflected in the work of DFID […] It is time for DFID to wake up’.
Alex Chalk’s suggestion to rename the DFID to the Department for International Development and Conservation makes good sense if the government is serious about linking economic development with conservation policy.
We would like to see the bill in its final formulation address this issue of development aid as absolutely intrinsic to the goal of stopping poaching and ivory trafficking, as well as other wildlife crimes.
This is the area of greatest concern going forward to the next stages of the bill. For this ban to succeed, it is crucial that the exemptions are as tight as possible and leave absolutely no room for loopholes or ambiguity. Of particular worry is the artistic/historic/cultural category, which has the greatest potential for such loopholes. Here, we concur with Pauline Latham’s suggestion for a public register: ‘It would be useful if DEFRA published a register showing how many exemptions have been issued under the historical, artistic and cultural definition every year, so that a picture could be built up of all the relevant artefacts, which would be verified by people who know what they are doing, such as the V&A and other museums. That register ought to be publicly available, and it would demonstrate a commitment that the exemption is for the rarest and most important items only, not just any old ivory artefact.’
Huw Merriman went further in suggesting that the various dates in the bill are done away with (pre-1918, 1975) and a single ‘now or never’ registration is put in place at the outset, using pre-1947 as the date, and any items that aren’t registered would get destroyed, including for museums. Such a register would both tighten and simplify the oversight of this exemption and deserves consideration.
We also urge the most stringent documentation process for those wishing to claim an exemption, including absolute proof of date, based on scientific methods and not on relative or subjective assessments by experts or otherwise.
5. Enforcement & penalties
We hope to see the strongest possible commitment from the government to provide the resources and funding needed to effectively enforce the ban.
As Neil Parish said, ‘It is no good introducing legislation unless we can enforce it vigorously. Can we also make sure that the penalties for those who willfully ignore the ban are proper deterrents? Again, it is no good introducing legislation if there are no real teeth to make sure that people adhere to it. We want to be certain that we are not going to trade ivory in this country.’
Zac Goldsmith and others also drove home this point and called for long-term funding for the Wildlife Crime Unit and for sufficient resources for the CITES border force at Heathrow.
In conclusion, we fully support the calls to broaden the bill’s remit to all ivory-bearing species, to provide sufficient funding and resources for enforcement, and to make its exemptions and penalties the most robust in the world.
We hope that as the committee members go through items of the bill line by line, the goal – the imperative – to help elephants survive will always be uppermost in their thoughts.
We also hope that all further efforts of the antiques trade to widen exemptions and otherwise water down the bill will be rejected at committee stage, and we look forward to seeing the bill move to law as quickly as possible.
Action for Elephants UK
Rare bird being driven to extinction by poaching for its red ivory bill
Facebook knowingly profiting from sales of endangered wildlife parts on its site
Congressmen ask the SEC to investigate Facebook for profiting from illegal wildlife sales