Fauna & Flora International (FFI) welcomes the UK Government’s announcement of a public consultation on plans to impose stricter controls on the country’s ivory trade.

The 12-week consultation comes one year before the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, which will aim to strengthen international commitments to address illegal trade in wildlife. To maintain its role as a global leader in eradicating illegal wildlife trade, the UK must confirm the introduction of tighter regulation of domestic ivory trade by October 2018.

In the UK, while it is illegal to buy and sell raw (uncarved) ivory or ivory carved after the 1989 CITES ban, there are exemptions for trading in carved antique ivory (pieces carved before March 1947) or with a government-issued certificate for ivory pieces carved after 1947 but before the international ban came into force.

Through these markets, certain antique ivory products can be legally bought and sold nationally and can even be legally re-exported internationally, despite the global trade ban. Many argue that this makes it difficult to distinguish specimens that are being legally re-exported from those that are illegal.

FFI is calling for stronger controls on trade in antique ivory as well as modern ivory.

FFI’s Senior Technical Specialist, Wildlife Trade says:

“FFI and its partners are taking action to protect African and Asian elephants in the wild, and are witnessing unsustainable levels of poaching for ivory first hand. It is absolutely essential to stop the illegal ivory trade if we are to secure wild elephants for future generations.

“The UK Government’s plans demonstrate ongoing commitment to its leading efforts to stop illegal trade in endangered species. Concerted, collaborative action is needed from all countries, each of which has a role to play in helping regulate the international ivory trade.”

An estimated 20% of Africa’s elephant population has been lost in the last ten years. The UK ivory market is not thought to be a primary contributor to global illegal ivory trade, but there is an increasing body of evidence suggesting that it is providing cover for illegal trade.

The UK makes significant legal exports of antique ivory to Asian markets which are the primary markets driving the poaching crisis. There has also been a dramatic increase in the amount of ivory being re-exported from the UK to China since 2005. A recent EU report states that it is “often difficult to distinguish” between specimens that can be legally re-exported from other ivory items for which such export is banned.

Many countries, including China (which has the world’s largest ivory market), have already taken action to close domestic ivory markets. In July 2016, the US government passed legislation that significantly limits imports, exports and sales of African elephant ivory at the Federal level, providing exemptions for some antiques and musical instruments. China and France have also committed to enact nearly complete bans. Hong Kong has announced a five-year plan to phase out its domestic ivory trade and Singapore has also announced it will consider banning ivory trade.

FFI has been leading effective, on-the-ground responses to protect threatened species from illegal wildlife trade for more than 15 years. We have voiced our support of the ban on international trade in ivory, and urge countries (including the UK) to close their domestic markets for commercial trade in ivory.

The momentum and political support generated since the 2014 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade has translated into stronger collective efforts to stem illegal trade in ivory. It is now critical that we maintain this.