What the ban means

Here is a summary of the main elements of the Government’s proposed ban on the UK ivory trade:

A ban on dealing in ivory (including selling, buying, hiring, offering or arranging to sell, buy or hire and keeping for sale or hire)

There will be five limited exemptions:

  • items produced before 1947 that contain less than 10% ivory by volume (the ‘low ivory content' exemption)
  • musical instruments produced before 1975 that contain less than 20% ivory by volume
  • portrait miniatures painted on ivory that are at least 100 years old when the law comes into force
  • ivory items assessed by recognised specialists to be of ‘outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value’. They must be at least 100 years old when the law comes into force. The Government believe that the number of items in this category will be ‘fairly small’.
  • sales, loans and exchanges by individuals to accredited museums and between accredited museums
Image credit: Elephant Family by Pierre Gleizes

We understand that the same rules will apply to buying and selling ivory to or from overseas.

There will be a registration system operated by the Government for all transactions involving ivory:  sellers will have to register their item, provide an explanation supporting their claim that it falls within an exemption and pay a fee. They will then receive a registration number. The buyer will be able to ask for the registration number as proof that the item has been properly registered. We understand that both the seller and the buyer will have legal responsibility for ensuring the sale is legal. On subsequent sales, a fresh application for registration must be made.

The process will be different for the 'outstanding artistic, culture or historic' exemption. Specialists authorised by the government will assess the item to decide if it falls within the exemption. If it does, an 'exemption certificate' will be issued. This will effectively be a passport for the item allowing it to be sold, which will stay with the item through different changes of ownership. We understand the relevant fee for this exemption will be higher than the normal registration fee.

There will be a range of new and existing civil and criminal sanctions for breaking the law, depending on the nature and severity of the breach (up to the current maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and/or up to 5 years in prison).

The current CITES rules will continue to apply as well as the new rules (so if an item cannot be sold under the current CITES rules, or it needs a certificate to be sold, imported or exported, that will not be affected).

The ban will not affect ownership or possession of ivory (except if it is for the purposes of sale) nor the ability give, inherit or bequeath ivory items.

Comment

We will be providing comments to the Government on the details of the ban and how to ensure it is effective. We will be urging them not to weaken what they have proposed - we are concerned that some traders in products containing ivory are lobbying the Government to water down the proposals.

It is also crucial that the ban becomes law urgently: the UK will be hosting the next international conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade in London in October this year and it is vital that the UK is able to show the world at that conference that it is showing strong leadership and taking action to close down its own domestic ivory market. Elephants are still being poached at alarming rates and ivory is still being trafficked - the UK ban will send a powerful message to countries with elephant populations that the UK stands with them, and to those countries who have yet to close their own domestic ivory markets, encouraging them to act.