THE BLOG
04/07/2018 08:52 BST | Updated 04/07/2018 08:52 BST

There's An Elephant In The Room With The Government’s Ivory Bill

The focus of today's bill is too narrow - Labour wants to protect all ivory-bearing species

PA Wire/PA Images

Today’s third reading of the Ivory Bill provides a unique opportunity to enshrine protections for all ivory-bearing animals, in particular those listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which are some of the most at risk species.

To achieve this, Labour has put forward New Clause 1, a key amendment to extend the definition of Ivory to cover ivory-bearing species other than elephant.

This broadening of the definition of ivory is not only because many CITES species are at risk of becoming endangered but also to prevent a narrow focus on elephant ivory pushing poachers towards other forms of ivory including hippo. 

The problem is that Ivory Bill currently has only a narrow focus on elephants. It ignores the poaching of hippo and other non-elephant species for their ivory.

As the Born Free Foundation has stated: “It would be a tragedy if we worked really hard to save elephants and other species were collateral damage in the process… We recognise that the trade is entrepreneurial and will move to wherever there is an opportunity.”

We cannot wait until these other species are endangered and the problem has been displaced on to them in order to take action when we have the opportunity to take action today.

The Born Free Foundation has indicated that there has been an increase in the purchasing of hippo and other non-elephant ivory in the UK to replace elephant ivory in the internal trade. Last year, The Independent ran an article titled ‘The Other Ivory Trade’ with a focus on the poaching of narwhals and walrus, highlighting the fact that when it comes to the illegal ivory trade, elephants are not the only animal that require consideration.

Labour are keen for this legislation not to be unnecessarily delayed but we must also ensure that this Ivory Bill is the best it can be. It is unlikely that there will be a similar opportunity in the near future to legislate on this issue. While the Government has tried to play catch up and correct their oversight by tabling amendments that would give the Secretary of State powers to include endangered and non-endangered ivory-bearing species at a later date, the amendment does not compel or require the government to do so and it does not specify a timeframe.

Labour’s New Clause 1 goes beyond warm words and promises on the never-never, compelling the government to bring forward the inclusion of other ivory bearing species within the next 12 months. We have seen how a commitment to banning ivory has drifted in and out of consecutive Conservative party manifestos and how government commitments on animal welfare issues such as the banning of wild animals in circuses has been allowed to drop off the agenda.

We must not allow the same to happen in this case.

Sue Hayman is the Labour MP for Workington and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs