UK NGOs want Johnson to condemn moves to overturn ivory trade ban

Sep 2, 2022 | News

By Thobo Motlhoka, The Independent

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should act to thwart Botswana and other southern African countries’ desire to have the ban on legal ivory sale lifted, a coalition of British conservation groups has said. 

The statement by Action for Elephants UK, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Investigation Agency, Tusk, and Elephant Protection Initiative Organization and others, calls on the UK government and Member States of the global body regulating endangered species trade, CITES, to ensure that the global ivory trade, and national markets, do not reopen. 

The conservation organisations were reacting to the implementation of the UK Ivory Act which came into effect on June 6, 2022 under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s watch. 

“We would encourage the UK to use the implementation of its ivory ban to speak out against renewed efforts that are expected from a few Southern African countries to reopen ivory trade at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, which takes place in November 2022 in Panama,” the statement reads, noting that “previous efforts by some Southern African countries were soundly rejected by a very large majority of Parties at CITES CoP18 in 2019, on the basis that legal trade would negatively impact elephant populations and fuel organized criminality.” 

The organisations say since CoP18, the world knows that African elephants are now even more endangered than was known in 2019. Africa’s elephants, the statement says, are beginning their slow recovery from the devastation of the international ivory trade, and poaching is declining or has been stopped in many countries. 

“As we look forward towards CoP19, all eyes will be on the UK to continue showcasing significant leadership in the conservation of elephants – a keystone species that plays a critical role in managing African and Asian ecosystems, but which also helps mitigate climate change through the species’ role as ‘environmental engineers’.” 

Under the UK Ivory Act, it is illegal to deal in items made of, or containing, elephant ivory, regardless of their age. There are a number of carefully crafted, limited and certified exemptions which include portrait miniatures, musical instruments, items with low ivory content, sales to qualifying museums, and rare and/or important items. Penalties for dealing in ivory now include fines of up to £250,000 or up to five years’ imprisonment. 

Under the new law, it is compulsory for ivory meeting the exemptions to be registered on a dedicated portal on the government website, which was launched in February 2022. This service allows people to register and certify exempted ivory items they would like to deal in. 

Botswana and neighboring Zimbabwe have threatened to quit the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) over its refusal to allow them to sell their current ivory stockpile.

“We don’t have to lobby others to ‘leave CITES’, but just to trade ivory within or outside of CITES. There are many countries that have expressed interest to partner with us on this ‘legally trade ivory inside or outside of CITES’. The issue on the table at the moment isn’t leaving entirety of CITES, just taking the ivory trade outside of CITES, and it’s not just Botswana exploring this, but this is pursued under the ambits of SADC,” Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks boss, Dr. Kabelo Senyatso, told this publication following the recent Elephant Summit hosted by Zimbabwe. 

Conservation NGOs had warned prior to the Summit that “should the Southern African countries decide to leave CITES in order to sell their ivory, it is crucial to highlight that any potential consumer country would also have to leave the convention or find itself in serious contravention of its legal obligations, which could result in trade sanctions and economic consequences.”

They further warned that the countries stand to lose much more than just their reputation if they choose to abandon CITES.

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