What the ban means

Here is a summary of the Ivory Act 2018:

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:

  • pre-1947 items that contain less than 10% ivory by volume (the ‘low ivory content' exemption)
  • pre-1975 musical instruments that contain less than 20% ivory by volume
  • pre-1918 portrait miniatures painted on ivory with a surface area of no more than 320 cm/sq.
  • pre-1918 ivory items assessed by recognised specialists to be of ‘outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value’. The Government believe that the number of items in this category will be ‘fairly small’
  • sales, loans and exchanges by individuals to qualifying museums and between qualifying museums.
Image credit: Elephant Family by Pierre Gleizes

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. 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 'outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical' 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. The relevant fee for this exemption is likely to 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.


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.