Is the UK Ivory Act Under Threat?
Just when you thought it was all over… it turns out there might be another twist in the tale. Many of us in the conservation world celebrated the passing of the Ivory Act by the British parliament last December, which introduced strict new controls on the buying and selling of ivory in, from, and to the UK. From 2010 to 2015, the UK was the world’s largest exporter of antique ivory, so this is a law of international significance. EPI Member States in Africa hailed its introduction; 13 of them signed a statement saying 'Domestic ivory markets, wherever they may be, provide a cover for the illegal trade and sustain the demand for poaching. We believe the UK’s new law will have an impact not only within its borders but will also support and encourage enforcement efforts and initiatives to reduce ivory trafficking in Africa, and around the world.’
The law had been fiercely opposed by parts of the British antique trade, who have now succeeded in bringing it back before the courts, in a process known as Judicial Review. The case will be heard by a judge in London on October 16th, and so there is a possibility the Ivory Act will be repealed, in part or in whole. The antique traders argue that the Ivory Act is incompatible with EU law. Even if we put to one side the vexed question as to when, or if, the UK is leaving the EU, there is an irony behind this line of argument, because the EU Commission is currently considering proposals to tighten controls on the European ivory market which are, in part, based on the new British legislation. In other countries, including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, governments have recently introduced, or are in the process of introducing, laws to tighten their ivory markets, again inspired by the UK’s example. Domestic ivory markets are being closed across the world. We can only hope the UK government will not have to abandon the international consensus it helped to create. Of course, a UK ban alone is never going to save Africa’s elephants. But it will have an impact on conservation on the ground, and that is why EPI member countries hope this legal challenge will fail. Those who follow the news will know that the process of Judicial Review in the British courts can throw up some unpredictable results, so we will be holding our breath as we wait for the verdict, which is expected before the end of the year.