Finally, some potentially great news for elephants from the British Government as they announce a UK ivory ban consultation! Believe it or not, right now the UK is a direct contributor to the killing of elephants in Africa. The reason for this is we still allow the sale of ivory domestically, as long as it is classified as antique (pre 1947). Whilst technically, many would argue that ivory from an elephant that has already been killed isn't contributing to the death of another elephant today, unfortunately it just isn't that simple.
Having illegal and legal ivory markets spells trouble. Firstly, illegal ivory can easily be 'washed through' the legal market, by disguising it or marketing it as legal ivory. With it near impossible for the lay man to tell the exact age of ivory (and the only true way to tell via expensive carbon dating), the current situation just isn't enforceable. What's more, it really is 'buyer-beware' at the moment - there are no requirements for any formal certification of ivory to say whether it is officially classified as antique or whether it is illegal 'modern ivory'.
Secondly, by having a legal trade in antique ivory we are inadvertently fuelling demand for ivory in the Far East. A massive amount of antique ivory from the UK is exported to China, in fact, more than from any other country in the EU. What this does is show credibility and give endorsement for ivory as a product of value and beauty, when the truth is that ivory only has value and beauty on a live elephant.
At the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) we have been working for a long time to protect elephants, whose populations are being decimated for the ivory trade just to provide trinkets that nobody needs. We were therefore delighted by the UK Government's announcement of a consultation on a UK ivory trade ban. I've personally been involved in campaigning hard for such a ban and we believe this will make a real difference for elephants. Elephant populations are at an all-time low with the species facing the real risk of local population extinction in the not too distant future, due to massive levels of poaching which is killing at least 20,000 elephants each year.
IFAW is urging members of the public to support an ivory ban and MPs to respond to the consultation to establish the most effective and workable ban possible. We know that this is something with wide ranging support as polling recently released by IFAW revealed that the vast majority of the UK public want to protect elephants with a UK trade ban and do not wish to purchase ivory themselves. An overwhelming 95% of respondents polled by YouGov stated that they would not be interested in purchasing antique ivory. A YouGov survey of MPs also found 97% of MPs to be supportive of either a total ivory ban or a ban with some exemptions.
The Government's ivory ban consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on December 29. It is vital that a ban is introduced as time really is running out for elephants and we in the UK have a part to play. In October next year, the UK hosts the 4th International Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, a high level Governmental Conference on tackling the issue. Having a ban in place by then would send a clear message that the UK is a leader, not a follower, in this fight.