Public urged to show support for UK ivory ban to protect elephants as Government launches consultation

Public urged to show support for UK ivory ban to protect elephants as Government
Friday, 6 October, 2017
London, UK

As the Government launches a public consultation on a UK ivory trade ban, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) welcomes the move and calls on the UK public, as well as politicians, to support increased protection for elephants which are being decimated for the ivory trade.


Elephant populations are at an all-time low with the species facing extinction due to the ivory poaching crisis which is killing at least 20,000 elephants each year.


Secretary of State for the Environment, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, has just announced the ivory ban consultation. IFAW is urging members of the public to support an ivory ban and MPs to respond to the consultation to establish the most effective ban possible. The Government’s ivory ban consultation will run for 12 weeks, closing on December 29.


IFAW is calling for a UK ban on the ivory trade as well as a European-wide ban to help save the iconic elephant from the threat of extinction. A new IFAW report on the illegal ivory trade across Europe, (Ivory seizures in Europe, 2006-2015), found that the European Union is still a destination for illegal ivory, a major transit route between countries and a key exporter of antique ivory to South East Asian markets.


David Cowdrey, Head of Policy and Campaigns at IFAW, said: “We welcome the announcement that the consultation to ban ivory in the UK will start today. We hope this will be followed by a swift legislative process, with no delays, as 20,000 elephants are still being killed every year. The Secretary of State is showing the leadership that is needed for the UK to deliver its international obligations and help save threatened elephants before it is too late.


“The legal ivory trade often provides a smokescreen for more illegal killing of elephants. China and the US have both made strong moves to tackle their own domestic ivory markets and it is vital we do the same. As a nation of animal lovers, most people in the UK have already rejected ivory as something they wish to own, recognising more and more that ivory should only be valued on a live elephant. We hope this consultation will lead to a ban on the UK ivory trade and greater protection for wild elephants.”


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**.


Cowdrey added: “We are heartened by the strong political will to increase protection for elephants. However, time is running out and it is essential that this consultation leads to a closure of the UK ivory market. With the UK’s largest ivory seizure to date in 2015 at Heathrow Airport weighing an incredible 110 kilos, it is clear the UK plays a significant role in the illegal ivory trade, as well as the legal trade.”


IFAW is also running an ivory surrender, with members of the public being invited to surrender their own ivory which will be destroyed as part of the campaign to close the UK market. For more information on IFAW’s work to protect elephants from the ivory trade and how to get involved visit



Technical note

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,201 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12 and 13 April 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).


** Exemptions include for museums, antique miniature paintings, musical instruments and items of significant historical importance. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 97 MPs. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20/06/17 and 07/07/17. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the House of Commons.


Full polling results available on request.


  • IFAW would like to see a total ivory ban, with a de minimis exemption which is less than 200 grams in weight and less than 20% of the item by volume. This would be applied to all items made before 3 March 1947. All modern eg post 1947 to 1989 ivory items would be banned from sale with the exemption of musical instruments up to 1989. This would remove all solid ivory items from the UK markets and would ban international trade in ivory from the UK for export. 
  • Any ban should consider key exemptions: IFAW would like to see a ban that stops all ivory items being bought and sold in the UK, but we believe the Government should consider a few key exemptions:  

1.        Museums being allowed to acquire, display, swap and exchange collections around the world (so exhibits and individual items can travel and items can be saved for posterity).

2.        Antique items like furniture and ornaments (pre 3 March 1947) which contain less than 20% ivory by volume and less than 200g in weight (normally small decoration and inlays etc). 

3.        Exemptions for ‘antique’ miniature paintings which were painted on thin slithers of ivory prior to 3 March 1947, which could be self-certified by the antiques trade (most were painted between 17th-19th Century and no new ones are painted on ivory today).

4.        Musical instruments which contain ivory that is less than 20% of the item by volume and less than 200 grams in weight manufactured up to 1989. This is so instruments can be taken abroad, bought or sold and each instrument would have to have provenance and already require a MIC certificate under Defra rules. A separate item specific exemption may be needed for some instruments like pianos and bagpipes, which may contain up to 270 grams of ivory by weight, but less than 20% by volume, as verified by the Musicians Union.

5.        Saving items of significant historical importance through museums, which will have to be verified through a radiocarbon dating test and then approved by an independent expert panel of key museum experts to determine if the item is of significant historical interest. Defra would need to develop criteria to assess individual items and make sure that only items which are of significant historical importance, can be bought or sold and saved for the nation.

6.        Any ban should not require the destruction of any ivory product. Family heirlooms and historic items which are made from ivory or contain ivory should be allowed to be passed down to family members, or given to museums, but they cannot be bought, sold or traded for goods in kind. 


About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit Follow us on Facebook and Twitter



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