A few months ago, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) celebrated a significant step forward for the protection of elephants. On June 6, three and a half years after the United Kingdom government passed legislation to ban elephant ivory sales, it finally announced that it will begin enforcing the ban.

A stock of illegal ivory destroyed by the French government. Photo © IFAW
A stock of illegal ivory destroyed by the French government. Photo © IFAW

From now on, it is illegal to trade in ivory items in the UK, except for very limited exemptions. The UK’s world-leading Ivory Act is one of the toughest bans on elephant ivory sales in the world, with some of the strongest enforcement measures. Those who break the law now face prosecution and a fine of up to £250,000 or up to five years’ imprisonment.

James Sawyer, IFAW UK Director, said: “It is a good day for elephants. IFAW campaigned long and hard for the ivory ban to be passed so that the UK could play no further part in the bloody ivory trade. After welcoming the passing of this vital piece of legislation in 2018, we and the many others who want to see elephants safeguarded for future generations were frustrated by the delays to it coming into force.

“With thousands of elephants poached every year for ivory trinkets that nobody needs, this ban could not have come a moment too soon. It is now vital that the ban is effectively enforced and that those who attempt to circumvent it face the full force of the law. This was promised as world-leading legislation and must be shown to be so, but this is a day to celebrate for elephant conservation and we hope it will also inspire other countries to close their own domestic ivory markets.”

Sawyer added: “IFAW believes ivory should only be valued on a live elephant and the overwhelming public support for banning the trade shows the majority of people feel the same. 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.”

In Australia, a similar waiting game has played out with the former federal government committing to close down the country’s domestic ivory and rhinoceros horn markets more than two years ago. While legal domestic markets anywhere in the world remain open, a green light to continue supplying the demand for ivory is driving elephant poaching across both Africa and Asia, and there are serious concerns that elephants may become extinct within just a few decades.

But, with a new government now leading Australia comes new priorities, and IFAW hopes the implementation of this ban will be one of them. While we wait for this legislation, IFAW continues to advocate the voluntary adoption of policies by Australian auction houses, following the lead of Leonard Joel, who has had a voluntary policy not to sell rhino horn or ivory pieces since 2016.

It’s now Australia’s turn to play its part and move from words to action and legislate the domestic ivory trade ban. The iconic elephant’s conservation status cannot afford any further delay.

Elephants are intelligent and social animals that also play an important role in the ecosystem, and even help combat climate change by enabling greater carbon capture in the landscapes they inhabit. They are often referred to as ‘ecosystem engineers’ as they help modify landscape as they feed and move through it, creating new clearings and space for other species to grow and thrive, as well as dispersing seeds. To protect elephants and the communities who live alongside them, IFAW also endeavours to secure land for safe pathways, providing elephants with room to roam.

To find out more about IFAW’s work on ending the Australian domestic ivory trade, visit this website: https://www.ifaw.org/au/projects/australia-wildlife-crime-prevention

CHRISTINA PRETORIUS / IFAW

July 2022