As CITES begins, urging a total UK ban on ivory sales

IFAW continues to urge the UK Government to introduce a total ban on domestic ivory sales, as promised in the Conservative Party Manifesto. PHOTO: © IFAW/A. HoffordThe Government’s promise to ban the sale of all ivory in the UK has not yet been fulfilled as delegates gather in the opening days of the CITES conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom’s recent announcement as Environment Secretary of a ban on the sale of post-1947 ivory will not by itself stop the poaching that is decimating elephant populations, though it is a positive step in the right direction for elephant protection and should be welcomed as such.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) continues to urge the UK Government to introduce a total ban on domestic ivory sales, as promised in the Conservative Party Manifesto, as this measure is vital to help shut down the markets in the UK. We need to make the owning and buying of ivory undesirable and socially unacceptable and ensure that ivory has no monetary value, if we can ever hope to win the battle to save the elephant. 

READ: Ivory is the elephant in the room, Mrs May

The UK still has the largest legal domestic ivory market in Europe. Seizure data from Border Force and the Metropolitan Police make it clear that we are home to a significant illegal market, with some traders trying to stain or disguise newer items and pass them off as antiques.

As long as the UK continues to tolerate this legal trade in ivory, we are complicit in the destruction of elephants around the world. The fact that 100,000 elephants were killed in a single three-year period should act as a warning, after a one-off trade of legal ivory was agreed at CITES. This sent a message to poachers that ivory was desirable and people wanted to buy it.   

Only a total ban in the UK and the immediate closure of the domestic ivory market will make a global impact and set an example to other countries.

How can we expect countries like China to shut their markets if we are not willing to do it here?  

As IFAW joins delegations from around the world at CITES to speak out for some of our most vulnerable species, we encourage the UK Government to introduce a total ban with immediate effect. As long as ivory is being sold it places a price on an elephant’s head and tells poachers that it is business as usual. A legal market provides a cover for illegal trade and even the famous auction house Christie's has been fined for its part in selling illegal ivory this year. 

We need to send an unambiguous message to the world that ivory is not for sale in the UK and ask other countries to follow suit. Only by closing down the ivory markets and making all trade illegal can we stop the poaching. Senior members of the Conservative Party, including Lord Hague and the former environment secretary Owen Paterson, have demanded that ministers act quickly to introduce a total ban and shut the domestic ivory market once and for all. 

There can be no exemptions to this ban as we need a simple and robust rule that all ivory items or items that contain ivory can never be sold in the UK. That is what a total ban means and I urge the Government to deliver on this promise as quickly as possible.  

As Prince William said in his speech ahead of CITES, he is not prepared to be part of a generation that lets this iconic species disappear.

A promise is a promise and time is running out for elephants.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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