Theresa May, the leader of the U.K.’s Conservative Party, has withdrawn the party’s pledge to join China and the U.S. in the blanket banning of domestic ivory sales. Replacing the commitment of previous manifestos is a pledge to collaborate with international organizations to protect endangered species.
Currently, it is illegal in the U.K. to sell ivory which has been obtained from elephants who were killed after 1947. Nonetheless, dealers are not required by law to provide any documentary evidence of the ivory’s age, and critics claim that the ivory market in the U.K. is ostensibly a cover for illegal trade.
Since 1989, there has been an international ban on the sale of ivory, however many countries, including China, the U.S. and U.K. permitted the domestic sale of antique ivory. In September 2016, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Hawaii, delegates voted to close the domestic trade in countries where it still exists. Although the agreement has no legal authority, conservationists were hopeful that the text would prompt countries to ban any domestic sales of the precious material.
In 2009, the BBC’s David Harper investigated Britain’s role and involvement in the ivory supply chain.
“Amazingly London, right here, is one of the world’s biggest markets for the sale of illegal ivory and on top of that, Britain, London in particular, is the world’s third largest supplier of illegal ivory to America.”
Ivory is a much sought after and valuable commodity, and the illegal poaching trade has an estimated net worth of around seven billion dollars. In China alone, poachers can expect to earn up to a $1,000 per kilo, which has led to the horrific slaughter of more than 30,000 African elephants each year. With fewer than 430,000 African elephants remaining in the wild, the situation is now critical and conservationists warn that unless radical measures are introduced to protect the African elephant, the remaining large groups could be extinct by 2020.
Moreover, the flourishing black market in ivory trading does not just claim the lives of the much-loved elephant, there is a human toll too. In 2012, the Elephant Action League conducted an 18-month study into illegal ivory poaching as a conflict resource. The EAL concluded that al-Shabab, a jihadist fundamentalist group which pledged allegiance to Al-Quaeda, was drawing more than 30 percent of its funds for the organization’s salaries from illegal poaching. Further, groups such as central Africa’s Lords Resistance Army and Sudan’s Janjaweed have been linked to ivory smuggling and are believed to be using the proceeds to fund arms.
Although ivory poaching is, without doubt, a lucrative trade for those who engage, the economic impact of poaching on communities, particularly where tourism is the primary source of income, could potentially be devastating. According to Nature Communications, the cost of implementing programs to protect elephant numbers is far outweighed by the profits from potential tourism.
“We find that the lost economic benefits that elephants could deliver to African countries via tourism are substantial (∼USD $25 million annually), and that these benefits exceed the costs necessary to halt elephant declines in east, southern and west Africa. Even if we entirely ignore other benefits that people derive from elephants, their conservation is a wise investment decision for countries in the savannah regions of Africa.”
In June 2016, the U.S. Government introduced new regulations regarding the import and export of ivory and in the same year, China announced that it would introduce a total ban on ivory sales by the end of 2017. In the 2010 and 2015 Conservative manifesto, then Prime minister David Cameron pledged to work towards a total ban on ivory sales in the U.K. Theresa May’s decision to drop the pledge made by David Cameron in previous manifestos has been heavily criticized by conservationists and wildlife groups, who assert that Mrs. May has bowed to pressure from wealthy antique dealers who profit from the illegal trade in ivory.
[Featured Image by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images]