On the UK Ivory Ban

11 December 2018
Hundreds of activists from Action for Elephants UK stage a silent protest at Parliament Square, London, to raise awareness of the poaching crisis that pushes rhinos and elephants to extinction and to urge the government to implement a ban on the ivory trade in the UK. Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images

After all the hard work IFAW and you as our supporters have put into getting an ivory ban to protect elephants we can finally celebrate that the Ivory Bill has now passed the last hurdle in the House of Commons, has been approved and is going for Royal Assent, which we hope will happen before Christmas. This amazing news means we can give the best present ever to elephants this year; namely that another ivory market is closing and increasing pressure for all countries to do the same and help make the killing of elephants for ivory a thing of the past.

The Bill’s passage through Parliament was not easy and at times worrying. There were a number of attempts by the antiques lobby to water down the Bill, putting forward amendments that would have created more loopholes than a sieve full of water, but IFAW was on the case and briefed hundreds of supportive MPs and Lords throughout the Bill’s passage through Parliament. The end result was that all of those bad amendments were either withdrawn or voted down and we will now have one of the toughest ivory bans in the world, with a few very limited exemptions, which we put forward and supported.

The resulting Ivory Act will now ban the sale of most ivory items in the UK, which is fantastic news and we could not have done this without you. With elephant populations in crisis and an elephant poached every 26 minutes for the illegal ivory trade, it is vital to shut down the legal markets as urgently as possible so that they can no longer be used as a smokescreen for illegal killing and trafficking.

IFAW would like to congratulate everyone involved, especially our supporters and the UK Government for taking such swift action since pledging to introduce a ban. It has to be said that the Ivory Bill must be one of the quickest pieces of legislation to pass through Parliament in recent years and this reflects the importance that the Government attached to it.

I have to personally congratulate Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, who has championed this Bill from our very first meeting and also the Ivory Bill team at Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for their amazing support and work in delivering a balanced and excellent piece of legislation. It is also important to note that all political parties supported this Bill and without their support it would not have succeeded.

When IFAW stepped up its campaign for an ivory ban in earnest about three years ago, we were starting from a bleak place. Though it had been included on manifesto documents little had been done politically, it was not a priority and was even dropped as a manifesto pledge by the Government at the last election. IFAW crafted a campaign that would create real change and brought in some vital players we needed to reassure and have on side, such as the Musicians’ Union, Music Industries Association and Association of British Orchestras to really understand their issues and work together as partners.

We spoke to museums and fine art dealers like Philip Mould and took their concerns on board, worked with them and built strong relationships that would shape the campaign and achieve real positive change for elephants. I also spoke to enforcement officers to understand what would work and what would not work, because at the end of the day any new legislation has to be enforceable and we want the people behind the illegal wildlife trade to be brought to justice. We lobbied hundreds and hundreds of MPs, Lords and civil servants. We wrote letters, IFAW published reports, gave evidence to select committees, conducted surveys, signed petitions and kept up a constant pressure, advocating real joined up solutions to the Government and all of our suggestions were taken on board.

As a public element to the campaign, we ran another UK ivory surrender, our fourth in the UK, where members of the public were encouraged to give up any unwanted ivory to be put beyond use and ensure it would not be traded. We continue to be overwhelmed by the huge public response to this, with hundreds of ivory trinkets and tusks donated to IFAW over recent months. The majority of donated ivory is passed to the relevant Government agency to destroy, and just a few items are retained for education work and publicity purposes.

Our partnership approach was supported and echoed by other NGOs and we all worked together to deliver one of the best and strongest ivory bans in the world. We now hope this will be replicated by the European Union and that they will act as courageously as the UK Government did to close down the EU to ivory and produce equally strong legislation. Our job will not be done until all ivory markets are closed and people only value ivory on a living, wild elephant.

It has been a hard, long and successful campaign thanks to all of your support and I hope has delivered a great Christmas present and one that we can all celebrate. The elephants won’t forget, and neither will we.

-- David Cowdrey, IFAW Head of Policy and Campaigns, United Kingdom

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