On 23 May, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced in a press release that the Ivory Act 2018 will be extended to include five new species. A government consultation found that, of the 98% of respondents who expressed a preference, 93% were in favour of broadening the Act to include the teeth and horns of walruses, narwhals, killer whales, sperm whales and hippopotamuses – all of which are included on CITES list of species, which protects animals against over-exploitation. Following the consultation response, secondary legislation will be introduced in order to extend the ban to include these animals.
The Ivory Act 2018, which came into force in June last year, has been described as “one of the toughest bans of its kind in the world”. It prohibits the dealing in any item made of ivory or containing ivory and carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, or an unlimited fine. There are, however, certain exemptions, with the main one being pre-1918 items of “outstandingly rare artistic, cultural or historical value”. In addition to this, there are exceptions for:
- Pre-1918 portrait miniatures with a surface area of less than 320cm²;
- Pre-1947 items with low ivory content;
- Pre-1975 musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20%; and
- Ivory acquisitions between qualifying museums.
Ivory poaching has been cited as a key reason for the decline of the African grey elephant, with it being estimated at one point that around 20,000 elephants were killed each year in response to the global demand for ivory.
Indeed, following the ban on elephant ivory in the UK, further concerns have been raised by wildlife campaigners that ivory from other species will be used to fill the gap in the market created by the initial ban. Hippopotamuses are cited as particularly vulnerable in this regard; they are second only to elephants in the risk they face from the ivory trade. A 2021 report, The Often Overlooked Ivory Trade, found that between 2009 and 2018, the quantities of hippo ivory traded internationally “resulted in an offtake or an equivalent number of approximately 1,349 hippos annually”. DEFRA describes the other species set to be included in the Act – walruses, narwhals, killer whales and sperm whales – as being at great risk from other factors such as climate change, meaning that any decline in their numbers will likely be exacerbated by the trade in their ivory.
Nevertheless, the ban on ivory has been met with some concerns from the antiques trade. In 2019, a Judicial Review was brought against the government by a group of antiques dealers, the Friends of Antique and Cultural Treasures Limited (now dissolved), who argued that the Ivory Act was unlawful under EU law and that it would negatively affect their businesses and incomes. Their claim was ultimately unsuccessful, with a further appeal being dismissed. In regards to the recent announcement to extend the Act, The Art Newspaper has reported that dealers in antique scrimshaw – ornately carved teeth and bones of whales and walruses created by sailors in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – are particularly critical of the proposed extension and the impact it could have on their businesses, arguing that the antique ivory trade will not have an influence on animals being poached for ivory.
Hippopotamus amphibius, Bernard Dupont via Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 – File:Hippo (Hippopotamus amphibius) male … (52516608673).jpg – Wikimedia Commons
Whale tooth scrimshaw, State Library of New South Wales via Wikimedia Commons – public domain