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There has been rising international concern over the declining population of African savanna elephants. In the UK, the Government announced plans to ban the sale of ‘worked’ ivory produced since 1947 in September 2016. Internationally, the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) accepted a non-binding resolution to phase out domestic ivory markets in October 2016.

E-petition: Shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK

An e-petition on Parliament’s website with over 100,000 signatures calls on the Government to ‘Shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK’:

The Conservatives pledged to shut down the UK’s domestic ivory market in their manifesto for the past two elections. 30,000 African Elephants are slaughtered a year for their tusks yet, the government has still not outlawed the trade. From 2009 to 2014, 40% of UK customs seizures were ivory items.

Many African nations, the US, France and even China have committed to outlawing the markets. There are only around 450,000 African Elephants left, in another six years there will be almost half this amount if governments continue to turn a blind eye; the UK are putting Elephants at risk from extinction. If there were not a market, then the elephants would no longer be in danger. The UK needs to set an example that the only tusks of value are those on a live Elephant, before they cease to exist.

On 17 January 2017, the Petitions Committee decided to schedule a debate in Westminster Hall on the motion “That this House has considered e-petition 165905 relating to the domestic ivory market in the UK” on Monday 6 February 2017 at 4.30pm.

Savanna elephant population

The “sharp upward trend” in poaching since the mid-2000s is thought to have peaked in 2011. However, between 2007 and 2014 the savanna elephant population declined by 30 percent, largely due to poaching. A recent census of the savanna elephant population found that “elephants are struggling both inside and outside parks.”

1989 ban on international ivory trade

An international agreement in 1989 to effectively ban international trade in ivory was brought in under the CITES. This agreement listed African elephant ivory on Appendix I to the Convention, meaning trade in ivory was limited to “exceptional circumstances.” This did not affect legal domestic markets, which were allowed to continue—and did so in many countries.

The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (as amended) enforces CITES in the UK and provides for criminal offences. Under the regulations, the maximum penalty upon conviction is a two year prison sentence, a level five fine (£5,000), or both.

UK ban on modern day ivory sales

On 21 September 2016, the Government announced plans to ban the sale of ‘worked’ ivory produced since 1947. Ornaments and works of art dating prior to 1947 are classified as ‘antique’ and trade in them will be permitted. DEFRA plan to consult with environmental groups, industry and other relevant parties to establish how and when such a ban could be introduced, as well as any necessary exemptions “early in 2017”.

The Government has been criticised by several conservation groups for not going far enough in the ban.

International actions

In October 2016, the 17th CITES Conference of Parties accepted a non-binding resolution to phase out domestic ivory markets. This was praised by conservation groups, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

In September 2015, then US President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping together pledged to enact “near complete bans” on the import and export of ivory. In June 2016 the US Government introduced new regulations and at the end of 2016, China announced that it would introduce a ban on all ivory trade and processing activities by the end of 2017.

France is another country which has recently introduced a “near complete ban” on ivory trading.

Commons Library Briefing Paper

For further information, please see the Commons Library Briefing Paper CBP7875: Trade in ivory: UK and international policy and regulation (pdf).

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