“It’s been an incredible fortnight for animal welfare.” Not my words, but those of the RSPCA.
But with print and social media dominated by Brexit commentary, a decisive step forward in this area has been almost drowned out. It relates to an issue I care passionately about, and which I know from my email inbox Cheltenham residents do too: the ivory trade.
Back in February I used a debate in Parliament to challenge Ministers to act more decisively over the ivory trade and elephant poaching. It’s now well established that the number of wild elephants has declined by almost a third in the last decade. 20,000 a year are still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory. The illegal ivory trade is a highly organised industry, estimated to be worth up to £17 billion a year. Those statistics, as others have said, ‘shame our generation’.
Although the trade of raw ivory of any age is already prohibited, the old rules allowed worked ivory items produced after 3 March 1947 to be sold with a certificate. That broad exemption, however well-intentioned, created a loophole which is being ruthlessly exploited.
And although primary responsibility for conserving elephants rests with the host nations, I believe must do everything we can to avoid fuelling the trade. The fact is that there were more than 36,000 ivory items exported from the UK between 2010 and 2015, more than three times that of the next biggest exporter, the US. That creates a moral responsibility on us to act.
Now the Government has announced plans to tighten the law on ivory sales. The proposed new ban will cover items of all ages, and exemptions have been drastically tightened – relating principally to musical instruments and items of cultural importance. This change in the law will build on our work both at home and overseas, which includes the training by the UK military of an elite force of anti-poachers in African countries.
It also means that we can show global leadership just as we host a major illegal wildlife conference in 2018. I’m determined that we should get robust measures in place before that begins.
A consultation on the Government’s proposals has now opened, and will run until 29 December. If you have a moment, do respond. Alternatively, let me have your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.