A Chinese carved ivory sphere dating from the 19th century. The Great North Museum: Hancock. Twam

Tougher ivory law to come into force this year

Alex Stevens, 04.01.19
Exemptions include sales to and between accredited museums
The Ivory Act, which bans UK domestic and international trade in items containing elephant ivory, has passed through UK parliament and is expected to come into force in late 2019.

A short list of exemptions deemed not to contribute to the poaching of elephants includes sales to and between accredited museums, and items of “outstanding artistic, cultural or historic significance” made prior to 1918. Decisions on these items will be made subject to the advice of specialists “at institutions such as the UK’s most prestigious museums,” said a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) statement.

Also exempt from the ban will be portrait miniatures made before 1918; items with less than 10% ivory and made before 1975 (trade in ivory from Asian and African elephants was outlawed by the Cites agreement in 1975 and 1976 respectively); and musical instruments made before 1975 with an ivory content of less than 20%.

Exemptions will be administered through a new online registration system. Further details of the exemption process would be released as soon as possible, said a Defra spokesperson.

David Cowdrey, the head of policy and campaigns at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said the ban was “a momentous victory” for elephant conservation.

“With populations being decimated by the poaching crisis at the rate of one elephant slaughtered every 26 minutes, it is vital that we close down ivory markets,” Cowdrey said. “We are delighted that the UK government has succeeded in putting in place one of the toughest ivory bans in the world.”

Lord Gardiner, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, emphasised Defra’s consultation with the cultural sector: “The department has undertaken extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, including the music sector, the antiques sectors and all the sectors engaged, as well as NGOs interested in conservation, to shape the bill and, in particular, to establish a narrow and carefully defined set of exemptions.

“I recognise that the arts, antiques and music sectors make a valuable contribution to the success of the UK’s economy – the government is keen to ensure a smooth and successful operation of the new online registration system.”

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, launched the Ivory Alliance at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in October last year. This international group aims to reduce the illegal killing of African elephants by at least one third by the end of 2020, and two thirds by the end of 2024.