This World Elephant Day, it is worth remembering that instead of making sure an ivory trade ban is operating effectively, ministers have being sitting on their hands
This World Elephant Day, it’s worth remembering that government press releases don’t save animals from cruelty and extinction. With this administration’s record on animal welfare, we are learning the hard way that even the legislation they have passed must be rigorously analysed.
Take the government’s much-delayed Ivory Act, which received royal assent on 20 December 2018. It is supposed to increase the protection of elephants by banning the trade of ivory products in the UK.
Boris Johnson told a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) summit on the illegal ivory trade on 31 January 2018: “If we do nothing, there really is a risk that our grandchildren will grow up in a world without wild elephants … and they will point accusing fingers at all of us and ask you and me – why we were so careless and neglectful as to let this happen.” After the Act was passed at the end of 2018, Michael Gove, the then-environment secretary, said it would be in force by the end of 2019.
Yet the rhetoric doesn’t match reality. It has been more than 30 months since the Ivory Act was passed in 2018 and ministers have still not brought into force any of its provisions, nor used any of the powers granted by the Act.
Elephants are majestic animals and are still at risk of being poached out of existence in the wild. The WWF indicate up to 20,000 African elephants are being poached annually, equal to 55 per day, and even the lowest estimate exceeds the elephant birth rate – which poses a direct threat to these populations.
In March 2021, the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the African forest elephant to be critically endangered and the African savanna elephant to be endangered. Labour estimates that up to 53,130 African elephants have been poached and killed for their tusks since the Ivory Act was passed but not enforced.
The African Elephant Coalition states: “Any supply of ivory, including that within otherwise legal domestic markets, inherently increases the risk to elephant populations and local communities, due to the opportunity it creates for the laundering of illegal ivory under the guise of legality.”
I sat on the committee which scrutinised the then Ivory Bill in 2018 and was one of the authors of Labour’s amendment to extend the Bill to cover ivory from other species (such as the hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus) but this was voted down by Conservative MPs at the report stage on 4 July 2018. Ministers now say they want to extend the ivory ban to do exactly that.
In just one month, it will be 1,000 days since the Ivory Act was passed by parliament. In that time, thousands of elephants have been killed illegally by poachers. That’s why on World Elephant Day 2021, I’m renewing my call for ministers to activate all powers in the Ivory Act.
Instead of enforcing the ban on the ivory trade and making sure it is operating effectively, ministers have been sitting on their hands. How many more elephants have to be illegally killed before ministers act?
Luke Pollard is the shadow environment secretary and Labour and Co-operative MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport