‘Need for action beyond dispute’: Britain’s shameful ivory trade set to end with total ban proposed
According to the British government, more than 50 elephants are killed by poachers every day – almost 20,000 every year
Hong Kong’s controversial ivory trade could be dealt a major blow with the British government on track to ban the sale of nearly all sales of the animal product to help protect elephants from poaching.
Britain is the world’s biggest exporter of legal ivory, and the biggest exporter of it to Hong Kong and mainland China – two of the world’s biggest markets – according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Britain is currently allowed to sell ivory that was carved before 1947 or items carved before 1990 that have government certificates.
The proposed ban covers ivory of all ages and is subject to a three-month consultation. It was put forward on Friday by environment secretary Michael Gove.
“The decline in the elephant population fuelled by poaching for ivory shames our generation,” Gove said. “The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute.”
There are exceptions, including items of significant cultural value.
Gavin Edwards, conservation director of WWF in Hong Kong embraced the ban, saying it would add urgency and pressure to the city’s Legislative Council to shut down Hong Kong’s ivory trade as soon as possible.
“And to introduce stiff 10-year jail sentences for the wildlife criminals that dare to use our city as a front for their illegal trade,” Edwards said. “Now it’s time for Hong Kong to show leadership on behalf of Africa’s elephants.”
Alex Hofford, campaigner for WildAid Hong Kong, also welcomed the move. saying Britain and the EU had been the top re-exporters of “pre-Convention” ivory since the 1989 global ivory ban. Pre-Convention ivory is ivory in circulation before the 1975 formation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
“The pre-Convention ivory loophole has been proven, time and again, to have acted as a laundering mechanism that has enabled tens of tonnes of freshly poached ivory from illegally-killed elephants to enter into Hong Kong’s sleazy ivory trade,” Hofford said. “This has been achieved by reassigning old paperwork to new tusks and other tricks.”
According to the records of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, some 13.9 tonnes plus some 19,700 pieces of pre-Convention ivory have been imported into Hong Kong since 1990. Among these pre-Convention ivory, some 13.8 tonnes plus some 19,100 pieces came from European countries.
Of 10,904 pieces of pre-Convention ivory imported to the city in 2015, nearly a quarter were from Britain.
African elephants have declined by 111,000 in the past decade due largely to poaching, the WWF says. It said in one example, the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania has lost nearly 90 per cent of its elephants since 1982.
The EIA said that between 2010 and 2015, the UK exported 370 per cent more legal ivory than the US – the next highest exporter. It said British ivory exports to Hong Kong and China increased dramatically during that time frame, while exports to the US dropped because the US government introduced more restrictions.
“This huge legal trade from the UK – and the illegal trade it masks – is wholly unacceptable for a country which has previously shown strong leadership on elephant conservation,” said EIA director Mary Rice.
The British government had been under pressure by a wide range of campaign groups and prominent individuals including the former Conservative leader William Hague, the primatologist Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais.
There have been significant progress over the past year to reduce demand for elephant ivory. In December 2016, China, home of the world’s largest legal and illegal ivory markets, announced it will ban the domestic trade by the end of 2017.
In June, Hong Kong – the largest city market for ivory – published a bill to ban the ivory trade by 2021.
Additional reporting by The Guardian and Associated Press