Responding to the UK Government’s recent decision to ban domestic ivory sales, solicitor and former chairman of the Wallace Collection John Lewis stated in the July 22 edition of the Sunday Times that ‘This British ivory ban will make us all poorer – except the poachers’.
When the conservation community took action to combat the illegal ivory trade by working to close domestic markets, the clear objective was to ensure that any loopholes still open to those actively exploiting the illegal trade in ivory are firmly closed, and to guarantee that these restrictions are futureproofed. The intention was not to damage the antiques trade.
There is enough evidence to show that there is illegal ivory traded throughout the UK, both knowingly and inadvertently, so we all have a responsibility to act now to remove its perceived value and appeal. The ban will ensure there is no value for modern day ivory and that the ivory of recently poached elephants cannot enter the UK market.
Lewis says: “This bill would strip all value from multifarious antiques of beauty and craftsmanship”. If this is to become a real argument of value, he needs to ask himself if is he really advocating putting the price of material objects over the risk of the extinction of one of the world’s most charismatic species? We need to maintain some perspective. Ninety-five percent of the African elephant population has been killed over the last 100 years. The ivory market in the UK represents less than 0.7 percent of the overall antiques trade in value. As such people’s livelihoods are not going to be unduly affected by the Government’s legislation, which has overwhelming public and cross party support. Furthermore, the ban will include a number of tightly defined, pragmatic exemptions, to allow continued trade in certain items containing ivory that are widely recognised as not contributing to recent poaching of elephants.
We cannot expect the rest of the world to act unless we practise what we preach. This new UK legislation helps set a marker for the rest of the world to follow and ending the complex illegal trade anywhere means eventually ending it everywhere. These plans put the UK front and centre in global efforts to end the illegal trade in ivory and its catastrophic consequences and shows vital solidarity with China, who themselves responded to global calls when they introduced their own domestic ban at the beginning of this year.
To undermine global agreements to close domestic markets forged at both the CITES conference and IUCN Congress in 2016 would be unacceptably regressive. We cannot be the generation that has continued to preside over the mass decimation of elephant populations and failed to act. There is a clear and evident risk of losing elephants from the African bush if the illegal ivory trade continues. The UK can and should continue to set the highest possible standards and lead the way on a global ban.