When we hear about the often-discussed ivory sales ban, they envision the passing of laws designed to halt the import of ivory, to stop those who poach animals abroad to gather ivory, and to find and confiscate ivory that’s already been imported. While somewhat indicative of contemporary anti-ivory sales laws, the described measures don’t paint a complete picture of the regulations that have already been established to halt the gathering and use of ivory, thereby protecting endangered elephants.
As has been widely reported but not satisfyingly described, the UK has recently established the most comprehensive ban on the trade, use, sale, and importation of ivory of any nation in Europe. A definitive ivory sales ban has long been touted by many environmental and animal-advocacy organisations as the most effective step towards curbing elephant poaching, but it wasn’t until a recent informational campaign by Prince William, as well as a public opinion poll (which indicated overwhelming support for an ivory sales ban), that such wide-ranging measures have been taken.
The UK ivory sales ban was finalised on 2 April 2018, and is expected to be made into law later this year. Per the ban’s language, any individual found selling ivory or ivory-containing products can be punished by an unlimited fine and/or five years in prison, depending upon the quantity of ivory found as well as any potential plans to distribute this ivory (as opposed to selling it to private consumers). Museums will not be forced to comply with the ban, and will be able to continue to showcase any and all items that contain ivory. Privately owned antiques that contain ivory, however—regardless of their age, except when they are comprised of less than 10% ivory with respect to their net weight and were crafted prior to 1947, are musical instruments comprised of 20% or less ivory and were manufactured before 1975, or are over a century old and considered by museum professionals to be & “rare and important”; will be subject to the ban and will accordingly be illegal to sell.
This latter component of the ban has come as a surprise to many antique dealers and collectors, who believe that their ivory-containing items, because they were produced so long ago, should not be subjected to the current law. Moreover, other antique specialists yet are scrambling to recoup as much of their funds as possible from ivory-containing items in their collections (most of which fall outside the designated benchmarks, and are illegal to sell). The chief argument posed by antique professionals and hobbyists is that the ban of their ivory-containing possessions won’t help to curb the current ivory poaching problem, but may in fact make it worse by increasing the demand for the substance.
UK officials are also turning up the heat on poachers abroad, as is demonstrated by a plan revealed alongside the ban itself that calls for the training of African park rangers to spot and report the gathering of ivory. While the scope of these various training programs hasn’t yet been detailed, it’s reportedly the hope of many members of government that the measures will be completed by 2020, and that they will result in a near-freeze of ivory being exported from Africa.
Proponents of the ban, including numerous advocacy groups, have lauded this measure particularly, while some opponents of the ban (or its verbiage) have indicated their scepticism that it will be effective in curbing ivory poaching, given the geographical scope of Africa and generally limited government support (from African nations that’re home to the elephants in-question).
Ban opponents and critical animal-advocacy organisations have actually overlapped their criticism of the law on one key issue: that it does nothing to halt the sale and trade of ivory globally, and especially in Asian nations, which have long contained the largest market and demand for the substance. Opponents of the ban itself have called for it to be immediately struck down, while those who feel it doesn’t go far enough in protecting elephants want it to be used as international leverage, to persuade other European states, and ultimately Asian states, to adopt similar measures, thereby solving the problem at its root. Many of these same individuals believe the perfect time and platform for this persuasion attempt will be October 2018, at the UK’s international animal rights summit.
For now, though, the ban will obviously affect only UK residents. Those who own valuable antiques that contain ivory have once again been presented with a major dilemma, and are presently weighing an abundance of different options, including donating said antiques to museums, removing the ivory they contain so as to comply with the sales law, and/or transporting them to other countries (where ivory regulations are presumably less stringent) for storage, display, or sale.
The only thing that’s certain at the moment is that the UK has made official the most all-encompassing ivory sales ban in European (and perhaps world) history.