Ivory imports will face a near-total ban from today in a step conservationists hailed as ‘a good day for elephants’.
Under the Ivory Act, those found guilty of buying, selling or the dealing of elephant ivory items of any age without registering them or possessing an exemption certificate will face penalties, including an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.
As part of the changes, tech giant eBay will check its website to ensure ivory products are not sold under coded descriptions to get around the law.
The Government said the ban would ensure vital protection for the world’s elephants and that it placed the UK ‘at the forefront of global conservation efforts’.
However, critics said it does not go far enough because other elephant body parts such as skin can still be traded, and that it does not cover ivory from other animals such as hippos and narwhals.
Ivory imports will face a near-total ban from today throughout the UK. Under the Ivory Act, those found guilty of buying, selling or the dealing of elephant ivory face an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail
Elephants are commonly targeted for their tusks and the demand for ivory is known to contribute to poaching, driving a decline in populations.
The number of elephants free in the wild has declined by almost a third, with the savanna elephant population plummeting by around 30 per cent – equal to 144,000 elephants – across 15 African countries between 2007 and 2014.
It is estimated that around 20,000 elephants are also still being slaughtered annually because of the global demand for ivory.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the ban would ensure vital protection for the world’s elephants by putting a stop to the UK trade in ivory and that it placed the UK ‘at the forefront of global conservation efforts’.
Animal welfare minister Lord Goldsmith said: ‘The world-leading Ivory Act coming into force represents a landmark moment in securing the survival of elephants across the globe for future generations.
‘Thousands of elephants are unnecessarily and cruelly targeted for their ivory every year for financial gain. As one of the toughest bans of its kind, we are sending a clear message that the commercial trade of elephant ivory is totally unacceptable.’
An investigation by animal charity Born Free, released to coincide with the ban, found 1,832 overt and covert listings containing ivory in the UK in one month alone, with an estimated value of £1.1 million pounds.
Approximately 85 per cent of the listings openly described ivory products but 95 per cent of those that sought to sell ivory disguised or described as something else – usually ‘bone’ – appeared on eBay’s UK platform, which already prohibits the selling of ivory.
Born Free’s head of policy, Dr Mark Jones, said: ‘Born Free has long campaigned for an end to all trade in ivory, so we are pleased to finally welcome the UK’s Ivory Act.
‘Its implementation must now be sufficiently robust to ensure only items that genuinely meet the exemption criteria can be traded in future, and that any transgressions are dealt with promptly and severely.’
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) UK director James Sawyer said: ‘Today is a good day for elephants. With as many as 20,000 elephants a year poached for ivory, this ban could not have come a moment too soon.
‘Legal ivory markets have long provided a smokescreen for illegal trade, putting endangered elephants in further jeopardy. Ivory trading in the UK has now rightly been consigned to the history books and everyone who has played a part in this important conservation victory should be proud.’