Towards the end of last year (21st December 2021) we received a letter from the Defra Minister Lord Goldsmith that informed us of yet another delay to the Ivory Act 2018. This means that now, more than three years on from this momentous piece of legislation passing through Parliament, it is still just a piece of paper and not currently doing anything to protect elephants from being poached.
We know that legal ivory trade provides a smokescreen for further illegal trade and with elephant populations already decimated by the poaching crisis, time really is running out. With 20,000 elephants a year still being poached for the ivory trade—or one every 26 minutes—it is vital that our Government implements the UK ivory ban urgently.
It’s important to say that at IFAW we have worked with Lord Goldsmith for many years and we are sure that he is personally disappointed by this delay and that he is committed to doing what he can to protect elephants from being killed for their ivory.
Lord Goldsmith says that the Government plans to open the new registration system for ivory items in February 2022 and that the Act will come into force in spring 2022. There’s no getting away from just how long and arduous the journey to implement the Ivory Act has been. Over three years to bring in legislation is phenomenally long. Yes, we have had the COVID-19 pandemic during this time, but that hasn’t prevented other legislation and enforcement from going through. I’m scratching my head to think of any other piece of legislation taking this long to implement. If you can think of one, please tell me, I’d love to know!
It’s taken so long to implement that the EU has even been able to negotiate its own ivory trade restrictions in this time. An institution not renowned for its speed in passing new measures. At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if it was implemented across European countries before the UK.
At the very least I hope that the Government uses this further delay not only to fix the technical issues they appear to be struggling with, but also the other clear loopholes that we and many others have been flagging for months.
Firstly we are concerned that Defra appears to be suggesting that it will be OK for people to “gift, donate or bequeath items” to others. This will likely enable unscrupulous traders to take advantage and continue to buy and sell ivory. It risks undermining the entire system. Earlier this year we uncovered the scale of the ivory market in the UK and warned that the Ivory Act needed to be fit for purpose in order to achieve its intended aim of protecting wild elephant populations.
Secondly, we are also concerned that the registration system that Defra states as being the cause of the latest delay, may have issues itself by not providing the necessary rigour that we have called for. We remain convinced that the manner in which an ‘expert’ can be designated as proving the validity of an ivory item could lead to widespread abuse. There appears to be nothing preventing a dealer from being their own ‘expert’, nor an expert being someone else personally invested in the trade of an ivory item.
An additional concern that we have been raising for months now is regarding Defra’s refusal to implement a destruction or donation system for people who no longer wish to own their items of ivory and want to ensure they will not reappear on the market. We have first-hand experience of this from numerous correspondence and items that members of the public have asked IFAW to take and arrange destruction of in recent months, with the situation escalating during lockdowns. Unless the Government provides a secure system for unwanted ivory to be destroyed safely, there is a risk it will come back onto the market and further fuel demand. We have shown that this is a real risk and have been imploring Government to take action.
We hope that following this latest delay, the Government will use this extra time to fix these loopholes and do what is necessary to make the Ivory Act as effective as possible. If I had a pound for every time I heard the Government talk about this being “world-leading legislation” I’d be a very wealthy man. It’s time the Government started actually delivering upon this promise.
You can play your part by contacting your local MP today and let them know enough is enough—we must have a working trade ban now including a proper ivory disposal plan. We can't wait any longer—and more importantly—neither can elephants!
every problem has a solution, every solution needs support.
The problems we face are urgent, complicated and resistant to change. Real solutions demand creativity, hard work and involvement from people like you.