UK government seeks to extend protection of ivory-bearing animals

UK government seeks to extend protection of ivory-bearing animals

Hippos, walruses and killer whales could receive greater legal protection under government proposals to extend the ban on ivory poaching.

The plans would see the Ivory Act broadened to cover more animals, with ministers saying elephants are not the only species at risk. The proposed protections opened for public consultation on Saturday, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has urged industry stakeholders and members of the public to share their views.

The Ivory Act gained royal assent in 2018 but has not yet become law. The law would usher in a near-total ban in the UK on the importing, exporting and dealing of items containing elephant ivory.

Seeking to extend the restrictions, the government has advanced three options for consultation: retaining the current ban on elephant ivory only; extending the act to hippopotamus ivory only; or extending it to five listed species – hippo, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.

Launching the consultation, the environment minister Zac Goldsmith said extending the ban would send a “clear message”.

“The Ivory Act is one of the toughest bans of its kind in the world and sends a clear message that we are doing all that we can to save elephants from the threat of extinction,” he said.

“However, the ivory trade is a conservation threat for other magnificent species such as the hippo, narwhal and walrus that are at threat. So I urge everyone to share their views to help ensure we can protect more animals from the grim ivory trade.”

Hippos are at risk from poachers, while killer whales and sperm whales are targeted for their teeth, and narwhals and walruses for their tusks.

Mark Jones, head of policy at the Born Free Foundation, said: “By focusing only on the trade in elephant ivory, other ivory-bearing species could suffer as ivory traders and consumers turn to alternatives.

“By taking this step, the UK can send a clear signal to the rest of the world that killing animals to carve ornaments from their teeth is not acceptable in the 21st century.”

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, previously announced that funding to tackle the illegal wildlife trade would be increased as part of the UK’s £220m international biodiversity fund.

This article by Alex Mistlin was first published by The Guardian on 17 July 2021. Lead Image: An Atlantic walrus with her baby on an ice floe: it is one of the species not currently covered by the Ivory Act. Photograph: Norbert Rosing/National Geographic/Getty Images.

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