Skip to main content

Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May urging the government to meet its promise for a total UK ivory trade ban – Jan 2017

Letter to Prime Minister Theresa May urging the government to meet its promise for a total UK ivory trade ban – Jan 2017

Dear Prime Minister,

Action for Elephants UK is a grassroots group fighting to save elephants and to end poaching and the ivory trade that perpetuates it. Along with other groups, we are appealing to the government for a total ban on ivory sales in the UK, as the Conservative Party has promised twice in its manifesto pledges.

This letter follows on the one we delivered to No. 10 on 24 September and our letter of 16 November to Andrea Leadsom (both attached), to re-iterate our call for the government to fulfil this commitment.

At present a legal ivory trade exists in the UK, one of the largest markets for ivory in Europe. Significant amounts of ivory are also sold through online marketplaces in the UK. The existence of a legal trade serves as a cover for illegal sales of ivory, while perpetuating the cycle of supply and demand. A recent study, ‘The Ivory Project’, produced by Caroline Cox at the University of Portsmouth for the House of Commons, stated that the UK is the third largest supplier of illegal ivory items into the US.

The laws that attempt to regulate the ivory trade in the UK have proved to be ineffective and unworkable, and are full of loopholes for illegal ivory to enter the market. New ivory can be artificially aged to look old, fooling even experts. It is impossible to distinguish with any certainty a piece from, say, 1946 (considered a legitimate ‘antique’) and a piece from 1948 (considered illegal). The police and the courts don’t have the resources to monitor the trade or prosecute all cases where the law is broken. The Ivory Project states that the UK ivory laws have an ‘enormous scope for fraud’.

As you are aware, this crisis is the consequence of an unrelenting hunger for ivory from consumers, especially in China and other Asian countries. This hunger pushed up the price of ivory and pushed the African elephant closer to extinction, in order to satisfy the demand. Ivory has traditionally been considered a status symbol in South East Asia, particularly China, where tusks have long been carved into intricate pieces and ornaments. We at Action for Elephants UK, like many NGO’s, have enormous support for demand reduction strategies. We believe that governments have a crucial role to play in these strategies by exercising their legislative powers.

The past two years have seen an increase in international momentum to ban ivory: following a joint announcement on ivory bans by the US and China in September 2015, the US brought in a ban in July 2016 and China imposed a 3-year ban on ivory imports, promising a timeline for a complete ban by the end of 2016. Hong Kong, one of the biggest hubs of the illegal wildlife trade, announced in June 2016 that it will move towards a ban. France announced a ban on ivory trade in all its territories in April 2016. At the CITES meeting in Johannesburg in September 2016, delegates endorsed calls for the closure of all domestic ivory markets. Then in December came China’s momentous announcement that it would close its domestic ivory markets by the end of 2017, an initiative welcomed by ourselves and many other NGO’s. This move commits China to:

  • Shutting down ivory processing and sale facilities with prescribed timescales (to be completed by 31st December 2017)
  • Arrangements for the transfer of skilled workers to non-commercial cultural sectors
  • Limiting legal ivory sales to certified institutions subject to strict monitoring
  • Enhanced enforcement and public education in ‘ecological civilization’

Yet despite these advancements in awareness, increased regulation, and global demand reduction, as well as greater public pressure, the UK government has still not fulfilled its commitment to move for a total ban. The government has said it will consult with the antiques trade and other businesses this year on how best to move forward. We hope that the interests of a small commercial sector will not take precedence over the protection and saving of elephants. Any strategy based simply on tighter regulation will leave loopholes for illegal trade.

Again we urge the UK government to fulfil its pledge and move to close its domestic ivory markets, and lead the way as a powerful voice in stopping this trade globally and ensuring the survival of one of our most iconic species.


Action for Elephants UK