I have been a long-time campaigner for the introduction of a ban on ivory sales.
Around 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory, an average of around 55 a day. The number of elephants in the wild has declined by almost a third in the last decade.. There are now approximately 415,000 African elephants - a 20% reduction over the last 10 years, mainly due to poaching.
The UK isn’t one of the countries of most concern about the global illegal ivory trade. But, there is evidence that the, currently legal, UK ivory market is being used to launder illegal ivory, and ivory in the UK is both legally and illegally shipped to other countries.
I thought we would finally achieve a ban on ivory sales after the three biggest UK political parties promised one in their 2010 election manifestos. What could possibly hold this up?
Well, we all found out. David Cameron and Nick Clegg made all sorts of promises – on student fees, house-building, the NHS and many more – and broke most of them, including the commitment on ivory. So, we carried on campaigning for the ban. Despite repeating the promise in his 2015 manifesto, David Cameron’s Conservative government still failed to act.
And then, being frustrated about the failure to make progress, things got even worse. Mrs May’s Conservatives dropped the promise altogether from their 2017 manifesto.
So, we’ve carried on campaigning and, finally, after China decided to close its domestic ivory market last year, this government has brought a Bill before the UK Parliament.
It isn’t perfect and I hope that it will be amended and improved, in particular to ensure that evaders face civil and criminal penalties, including imprisonment as well as heavy fines. There also needs to be action to tackle illegal ivory dealing on the internet.
Once the Bill becomes law, it will give the UK more credibility in trying to persuade other countries with a history of ivory trade – especially in south-east Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Laos and Myanmar – to close their domestic ivory markets.
When an international ban is in place, the decline in the number of elephants in the wild may be halted.