Elephant ivory traders can evade new UK ban by disguising their products as walrus or narwhal

Elephant ivory traders can evade new UK ban by disguising their products as walrus or narwhal

Campaigners have warned that ivory peddlers may continue to sell elephant tusks after a new ban if they disguise their products as walrus or narwhal derivatives.

The trading in elephant teeth and tusks became prohibited in the UK on Monday, and violators could face fines of up to £250,000 or five years in prison under the Ivory Act. The act exempts pre-1975 musical instruments and antique artifacts of “exceptional importance,” as well as ivory from non-elephant species.

However, the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife conservation organization, is pressing for the ban to be extended to other species’ ivory, claiming that otherwise, unscrupulous dealers might pass off elephant items as derivatives from other mammals.

In a single month in late 2021, the advocacy organization discovered £1.1 million worth of ivory-containing products offered for sale on three UK online marketplaces. Because of the limited number and quality of photos offered, it was unable to identify the species in two-thirds of the 1,832 ivory product listings, according to the researchers.

The majority of the ivory-containing artifacts where the species could be recognized came from elephants (491 out of 606), with walruses (48), sperm whales (26), hippopotamuses (15), warthogs (12), mammoths (eight), and narwhals (six) rounding out the list.

“The take-home message from our analysis is that all ivory trafficking – from any species – has to halt,” said Will Travers OBE, co-founder and executive president of Born Free. Wildlife law enforcement agents in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently seized 2,000 kg of ivory, the equivalent of 150 killed elephants.

“Could this have been destined – at least in part – for the UK market via the online trade?”

“The government must now guarantee that the system they have implemented to restrict the trading in most elephant ivory is sufficiently robust to ensure that only things that truly fulfill the exemption criteria can be exchanged,” Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s head of policy, said. Our analysis indicates the enormous size of the ivory trade over the internet in the United Kingdom.”

Jones expressed fear that law enforcement would be overburdened in policing the enormous online market, allowing shady sellers to pass off illegal elephant ivory as something else.

Are Ivory Sellers Lying Through Their Teeth?, a Born Free investigation, found 331 incidents of vendors selling ivory on eBay UK in a single month, despite ivory commerce being outlawed on the platform in 2009.

The majority of the ivory products on the website were concealed in various ways, with one ad claiming that the item was “cold to the touch,” a well-known code phrase, and another claiming that the material came from “an animal with a trunk.”

Vendors frequently advertised products on eBay UK as “ivorine” or “fake ivory,” while acknowledging they included ivory in ads for the identical item on specialised auction websites.

During the month-long survey, 414 individual ivory merchants were found across the UK and Channel Islands, selling items including as walking sticks, ornaments, jewelry, and a hairbrush.

Born Free looked for things on Barnebys (a popular auctioneer and antique merchant search engine) and Antiques Atlas in addition to eBay (a specialist online marketplace).

“eBay is a founding member of the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online,” an eBay spokeswoman said. For many years, we’ve been trying to combat the illegal trafficking in elephant ivory, and we collaborate with WWF and IFAW to keep our rules and procedures up to date. We have global staff committed to executing our regulations, and we’ve blocked or removed over 265,000 listings prohibited by our animal products policy in the last two years.”

The relevant ad has since been removed from Antiques Atlas. “The ivory category and its accompanying stock has now been withdrawn,” Antiques Atlas’ Iain Smith stated. We are not a large auction site that sells large amounts of stock on a weekly basis. In the last six months, only one item has been added to that category.

“We’ve noticed that most merchants have been lowering their ivory stock and moving away from it during the last two years… I have yet to meet an antique dealer who isn’t opposed to the illegal ivory trade and the threat it poses to this critically endangered species.” Smith has stated that he would support a comprehensive ban on ivory exports from the United Kingdom.

In 2019, the government is seeking evidence to support a ban on non-elephant ivory trading. Hippos, killer whales, narwhals, sperm whales, walruses, common warthogs, desert warthogs, and mammoths were among the animals nominated for protection.

A number of people who responded to the consultation said that extending the ivory prohibition to non-elephant animals would be disastrous for musicians who rely on these sources for instrument construction and repair.

Another commenter noted that banning the trade in these species’ ivory would affect “little enterprises, private collectors, museums, scholars, and students of everything from antiquities to ladies’ antique clothes, without conserving threatened animals.”

“The world-leading Ivory Act entering into force represents a landmark moment in ensuring the survival of elephants across the globe for future generations,” said Peter Goldsmith, the animal welfare minister. Every year, thousands of elephants are unnecessarily and ruthlessly attacked for their ivory in the sake of profit. We are sending a strong message that commercial trafficking in elephant ivory is utterly unacceptable as one of the strictest bans of its type.”

This article by Mark Tovey was first published by The Guardian on 6 June 2022. Lead Image: From Monday, trade in elephant teeth and tusks is illegal in the UK, punishable by fines of up to £250,000 or up to five years in prison under the Ivory Act. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA.

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