LONDON — The British government has proposed to ban the sale of nearly all ivory in a bid to protect elephants from poaching.
The United Kingdom is the world’s biggest exporter of legal ivory, and the biggest exporter of legal ivory to Hong Kong and China — two of the largest markets — according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a London-based non-governmental organization.
Britain is currently allowed to sell ivory that was carved before 1947 or items carved before 1990 that have government certificates. The proposals, which are subject to a three-month consultation, cover ivory of all ages, the government said.
“The decline in the elephant population fuelled by poaching for ivory shames our generation,” said Environment Minister Michael Gove in a statement.
“The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute.”
The ruling Conservative Party removed an earlier pledge to “press for a total ban” on ivory sales from their 2017 general election manifesto earlier this year.
African elephants have declined by 111,000 in the last decade due largely to poaching, the WWF says. It said in one example, the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania has lost nearly 90% of its elephants since 1982.
About 20,000 elephants are killed every year for their tusks, the British government says.
The EIA said that between 2010 and 2015, the U.K. exported 370% more legal ivory than the U.S. — the next highest exporter. It said British ivory exports to Hong Kong and China increased dramatically during that time frame, while exports to the U.S. dropped because the U.S. government introduced more restrictions.
The groups says the legal trade is used to cover for the illegal trade in ivory.
“This huge legal trade from the U.K. — and the illegal trade it masks — is wholly unacceptable for a country which has previously shown strong leadership on elephant conservation,” said EIA director Mary Rice in a statement.
Exceptions to the proposed ban include items containing only a small amount of ivory, musical instruments, and items of significant historic, artistic or cultural value.
Tanya Steele, the chief executive of the WWF, said: “This illegal trade involving organised criminals is a global problem requiring global solutions: to end it anywhere means ending it everywhere,” the Guardian reported.
“This is about a lot more than banning ivory sales in one country. It means working with global leaders and communities around the world, particularly in China and south-east Asia, to implement bans and stop the illegal trade,” she added.
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