The Conservative Party has this week scrapped a previous pledge against the sale of ivory in the UK. Former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015 pledged to ban the import and trade of ivory products if elected. This campaign promise led to initial plans made during Cameron’s tenure, but has since disappeared from all Tory campaign material – replaced with a single small promise to protect wildlife within the UK.
In 2016 environment secretary Andrea Leadsom outlined plans for the ban of ivory products, which included outlawing the sale of ivory objects produced after 1947. The ban, which was welcomed by environmentalists at the time, was described as some of the most stringent legislation in the world at the time. These plans were unfortunately never made into law however, and have since been seemingly abandoned by Teresa May’s government.
Although no explicit reason has been given for the quiet dropping of the pledge one likely explanation comes from backroom lobbying from outside and within the current government. Lady Victoria Borwick, MP for Kensington, was a leading voice against the ivory ban plans and described proposed legislation as akin to “cultural vandalism”. Borwick, who is chair for the British Antiques Dealers Association (BADA), has connections to some of the UK’s wealthiest antiques dealers – many of whom risk losing out if ivory trades are restricted across the country. Laura Bordignon, a council member of the BADA, has a number of ivory pieces currently listed on her business’s website. Borwick is believed to have lobbied the prime minister on behalf of antique dealers and ivory traders with whom she has business and professional connections.
Although the international trade of contemporary ivory is banned in most of Europe and North America, antique (pre-1947) objects can still be sold and imported with special license. This trade in antique ivory has been widely criticised by conservationists for lacking proper control measures. The trade in antique ivory also helps fuel modern poaching and trafficking of ivory and elephants, and often leads to modern fakes being created and sold as antiques.
Despite restrictions the ivory trade is still booming among the UK’s upper class collectors, with both antique and modern pieces being highly desirable. The contemporary ivory trade is worth millions, and this country’s demand for ivory has helped in the deaths of thousands of people across Africa. In 2016 the illegal industry was estimated at $19billion, and was linked to the funding of armed gangs and terrorist groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Shabaab. To date thousands have died in so-called “ivory wars” and in the last decade elephant numbers have dropped to a third in Africa thanks to poaching and hunting.
Image by the International Fund For Animal Welfare.