Now is the time for an ivory ban

Think of Africa, and you think of elephants. But sadly, these glorious and magnificent animals are under serious threat from poaching. It is estimated that one elephant is killed every fifteen minutes by poachers who are part of a chain of criminal activity that makes immense profits from selling ivory tusks onto the global market. This illegal ivory is distributed all around the world with routes mirroring those of drugs, guns and trafficked people. It is shocking to find that more raw and carved ivory is traded through the EU to the world than anywhere else, and the UK is the biggest part of that. It is this ivory that has been feeding a seemingly insatiable appetite for elephant tusks in China and East Asia.

Progress is happening, but it’s too slow. China announced an ivory import ban earlier this year and has been closing ivory processing factories all over the country. Pressure is now growing on the EU to act. The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking and my parliamentary report in 2016 mark good progress in terms of making environmental crime a high security priority, delivering extra funding for Europol to tackle waste and wildlife crimes. But the fact remains, ivory is still traded legally through the UK (even though a raw ivory export ban was introduced in the EU in July) and that feeds the Eastern market, showing that current ivory trade in the UK must be strengthened.

So, it’s good news that DEFRA has now come forward with an ivory consultation, which runs until December 29th. The consultation is an important way for citizens, businesses and NGOs to tell decision makers what they think about the ivory trade. You can have your say, visit DEFRA’s consultation. The Tories have been stalling on this issue – they pledged a total ivory ban in both the 2010 and 2015 manifestos, before removing the ivory pledge from their 2017 manifesto altogether. But, in what appears to be a U-turn in October, Michael Gove announced plans to implement a near total ban on ivory sales in the UK. When Michael Gove was made Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs a lot of eyebrows were raised. This is the same man that as Secretary of State for Education wanted to cut climate change from the geography syllabus in schools amid a lot of high profile politicians dismissing science and claiming that climate change is not real. The move to ban ivory is most likely the result of pressure from campaign groups and high profile figures including The Duke of Cambridge, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Hawking. So we need to add our voices and recognise progress from Gove.

There is also an EU ivory consultation looking at the possibility of an EU-wide ivory ban. I have been working with my MEPs4Wildlife group and a coalition of NGOs to promote this consultation to the public and help them fill out the questionnaire (which gets a bit technical in places!) which can be found at the MEPs4Wildlife website. There will undoubtedly be concerns about banning all ivory, especially antique ivory which some people feel very attached to, but it cannot be beyond the wit of policy makers to address these. This consultation allows people with these concerns to come forward, so we get a balanced view before taking further action.

There are already international treaties in place to protect all endangered and threatened species, including elephants. CITES (the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) is an international agreement which was set up to protect animals and plants to ensure that trade does not threaten their existence. It clarifies what species and derivatives thereof are prohibited from being traded in the international market. Under CITES agreement there is an international ban on the trade in ivory, it does however allow for the trade in ivory that predates the CITES 1989 agreement, which can be sold domestically and internationally and the legal trade in historical ivory is fuelling a trade in illegal ivory. It is almost impossible to differentiate between legal historical ivory and illegal ivory and not all of this ivory is artwork. Cutlery, doorknobs, snooker balls etc. are all feeding the demand. Traders are also using a variety of methods to disguise ivory for example staining newer ivory with tea to make it appear old. Current UK regulations are not sufficient to protect against the illegal ivory trade, there are currently no permits or certification required for old or antique ivory in the EU and where documents are required they are easily forged, this helps to maintain an illegal trade which is difficult to detect.

National bans are welcome, but I am calling on all EU 28 member states together to stop the current decimation of elephants. Many EU member states including the UK still permit the trade in legal pre-CITES ivory while some other nations are beginning to take notice like France which introduced a total ban on the ivory trade last year. In the UK moves have been made to implement a near total ban on ivory which would move for tighter controls and prohibit the sale of pre-1947 antique ivory. Currently the main market for ivory trade is in China and Hong Kong. Due to continued pressure China will cease to permit the domestic trade in ivory by the end of the year. With nations like China taking action against the ivory trade it is imperative the UK makes a stand for elephants, leads by example in this matter, uniting the EU and the rest of the world in this global issue.

Elephants need our help. As the supply of ivory reduces as it surely must, there will be an increasing demand and value of it. There has been an increase in ivory seized at EU borders and this alarming trend is leading to a rapid decline in vulnerable African and Asian elephants which will eventually lead to the extinction of these species. Not only is the ivory trade damaging to elephant populations, it is also detrimental to communities and economies in developing areas. It funds organised crime including terrorism, it risks the lives of the rangers who protect the animals against poachers, and it is destructive to the rest of the biodiversity in elephant habitats. Elephants are the gardeners of the forest, they are the architects of the savannahs and are critical for the long-term health of their habitats. We must all act now to stop the slaughter.

Please take part in the two consultations:

* Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Leader of the European Parliament Liberal Democrat Group.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and News.

One Comment

  • Richard Underhill 24th Nov '17 - 1:32pm

    Andrea Leadsom left open a huge loophole. The chancellor announced closure, but needs to be checked out in detail.

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