It's fair to say that most of us know that ivory comes from elephant tusks. But, even today, not everyone knows or appreciates that to get the ivory the elephant dies in a horrific way. Each year, at least 20,000 elephants are cruelly slaughtered just for their tusks, just so someone can own a little bit of ivory.
Here in the UK, the situation that many people find themselves in is that they may be an unwilling ivory owner. They may have a bit of dead elephant on their mantelpiece, maybe a bit of dead elephant in their jewellery box, maybe a bit of dead elephant in their hallway. And, maybe, they don't want it - they didn't buy it, or they bought it before they knew the true cause and effect of buying ivory. But now they're stuck with it - they don't want to sell it as they don't want to contribute to the trade or maybe because it was handed down to them and has some sentimental value, and after all, you can't really just throw ivory in the bin. And, you know what? That's completely fine.
But now the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is helping resolve that very issue. IFAW has just launched a public ivory surrender, where members of the public keen to help protect elephants from further slaughter are being invited to surrender ivory that they own. Then IFAW will ensure it is professionally destroyed and taken out of circulation on their behalf. No longer will that ivory be able to be used to prop up the illegal market, no longer will it be at risk of being exported to fuel demand in Asia, no longer will it have a value, propping up the very false notion that ivory not attached to a magnificent elephant has any value whatsoever.
The surrender is all part of IFAW's fight against illegal wildlife crime. Only the other week IFAW saw first-hand the daily impact of poaching as our dedicated investigators led a dangerous sting operation, resulting in the arrests of three poachers in Malawi, and the recovery of two huge bull elephant tusks. The tusks measured over five feet in length and weighed 70 kilos, meaning that another 'big tusker' was no more. The story and images were widely reported in the press, but these successful missions are often too late for the elephants.
Closer to home, as well as surrendering ivory, the UK can play a much bigger role in the race against the clock to save the elephants. IFAW, along with many leading conservation organisations, is calling on the Government to put in place a total ivory ban in the UK. Right now, antique worked ivory or products containing ivory can be sold openly, without permits and without formal age certification. Whilst it may, to an extent, be possible to tell if ivory is old or new, there are many common ways to 'wash' new illegal ivory through these legal markets, such as false ageing or staining. The current law prohibits post 1947 ivory from being sold (without the relevant permits), but it is physically impossible to age ivory to the exact year without carbon dating, which is costly and time consuming. What's more, the law relies pretty much on the principle of 'buyer beware'.
The 2015 Conservative Manifesto pledged to press for a total ban on ivory sales, but this vanished from this year's promises. But, out of sight didn't mean out of mind, with the UK public (95% according to IFAW surveys) not interested in buying antique ivory, and MPs themselves share the concerns, with a staggering 97% in support of a total ban or a ban with exemptions according to an IFAW/You Gov Poll. Just last week Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said at Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions that "the Government have a commitment to an all-out ban on the sale of ivory in this country, and that is what we intend to pursue".
In the US and China we've now seen great headway in domestic ivory bans, as well as in France. Now the UK risks lagging behind, at a time when we've pitched ourselves as global leaders in this fight. In 2018 the UK hosts a significant global conference on tackling illegal wildlife crime. I know I won't be the only delegate not attending if the Government hasn't taken clear, tangible and positive steps towards doing all they can to end this barbaric slaughter.
If you'd like to take part in IFAW's ivory surrender, all you need to do is send your ivory to: Campaigns Department, IFAW, 87-90 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UD and it will be securely stored off site and destroyed at a secret location by the relevant Government agency at the end of the surrender. Let's do this and end the ivory trade - before we end the elephants.