UK Government Public Consultation on Banning Trade in Non-Elephant Ivory

ivory consultation narwhal

Little is known about narwhal populations, nor how the trade in narhwal tusks affects their populations (Photo: Dotted Yeti/Shutterstock)

The UK Government is holding a public consultation concerning a proposed extension to the ban on the trade in ivory and ivory products. The extension would cover products made from 'non-elephant ivory', including hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.

The 2018 Ivory Act is touted by the government as one of the 'toughest in the world', and, when brought into effect, will ban the sale, purchase or hire of all items made of, or containing elephant ivory, regardless of their age. The ban will apply to the domestic trade and all commercial UK imports and exports.

The public consultation is gathering evidence as to whether or not extending the ban is justified, with three possible outcomes to the consultation:

  • Option 1 – Extend the Act to hippopotamus ivory.
  • Option 2 – Extend the Act to ivory from five CITES-listed species (hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus).
  • Option 3 – Do nothing and continue to apply current international and domestic conservation rules.

Elephant ivory has by far and away the largest value internationally; thought to be worth as much as US$1billion per year until it was outlawed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1989. Since then, the trade has continued illegally, with some countries pushing for the ban to be lifted, while the population of African and Asian elephants decimated, and endangered, according to the IUCN Red List - critically, in the case of the African Forest Elephant.

ivory consultation walrus

Walrus are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (Photo: Mikhail Cheremkin/Shutterstock)

The trade in non-elephant ivory is very much lower, with fewer than 100 items of non-elephant ivory imported into the UK between 2009-2019, and a total of 1389 auction-house trades occurring between 2013-2019.

Of species included in the non-ivory trade, hippopotamus represents the greatest bulk, and trade in hippopotamus ivory represents a 'key threat' to their populations. 

The consultation document also notes that species such as narwhales and walrus are legally and sustainably hunted by the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Canada and Greenland, and the secondary trade in tusks from these animals - either whole, or carved into decorative pieces or musical instruments. 

Nevertheless, as the consultation document concludes in its introduction, 'Despite the low levels of known commercial dealing in these ivories it is clear that there is a market in the UK, both legal and illegal, for the trade in all of these species. Such markets may be contributing to the allure of ivory from these species or may be being used to facilitate illegal trade.'

You can add to the consultation on the UK's Citizen Space Consultation Hub until 11 September 2021.


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