Two more nations this week announced their decision to come down hard on commercial sales of elephant ivory, further strengthening the global campaign to save these gentle giants from poachers and wildlife traffickers.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom said it will introduce what Prime Minister Teresa May described as “one of the toughest bans on ivory sales in the world.” On the same day, on the other side of the world, the government of Taiwan announced its intention to ban all commercial sales of ivory products, starting 2020.
Britain’s announcement follows a swell of public opinion against elephant ivory — when the U.K. government solicited public input last December, 88 percent of respondents supported a ban on ivory sales. HSI sent a detailed submission to the government on behalf of 19,623 of our supporters who agreed that only the strictest regulation would be acceptable. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a vocal proponent of the ivory ban, applauded the public support, stating that it is “vitally important that we reverse the tragic decline in elephant populations.”
The U.K. still needs to codify this proposal into law, and we hope it will do so as soon as possible, to ensure that unscrupulous dealers do not have an opportunity to dump their illegal or questionable stockpiles onto the marketplace before the ban takes effect. But the U.K. announcement is also crucial because it ramps up pressure on the European Commission, which is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory.
The EU has been examining restrictions on the import, export, and sale of elephant ivory in its member countries, and we hope that it too will act immediately to reduce its prominent role in the global trade in ivory. The majority of EU ivory exports are destined for China and Hong Kong, whose ivory markets have been fueled by illegal imports for decades. For their part, China and Hong Kong have already taken steps to address the threat to elephants posed by the trade, with China prohibiting all domestic sales of elephant ivory starting January 1 this year, while Hong Kong will prohibit commercial ivory sales by 2021.
It is now up to the EU to ban the ivory trade and make sure it does not fall behind in the global war on ivory. Because legally acquired ivory is very difficult to distinguish from illegal ivory, continued trade in ivory in the EU perpetuates demand for ivory and undermines efforts to combat wildlife crime.
Taiwan’s announcement, we hope, will similarly add pressure on Japan, which has more ivory manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers than any other country, and which trades tens of millions of dollars worth of ivory annually. Taiwan is seeking comment on its proposed ban, and HSI will soon submit a response in support of such a ban.
Our teams at HSI and The HSUS have been at the forefront of the work to end the ivory trade. Here in the United States, federal law prohibits most import, export, and interstate sales of elephant ivory, and seven states have recently passed additional safeguards and prohibit the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horns. Similar legislative campaigns are underway in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. North of the border, HSI/Canada is keeping up the pressure to address that country’s ivory market.
In Asia, HSI last month launched a “No Ivory” campaign video featuring Yoh Daikan, an outfielder with the Yomiuri Giants, a legendary baseball team in Japan. Yoh was born and raised in Taiwan, and with assistance from Taiwan SPCA, he recorded public awareness videos for both Japanese and Taiwanese audiences, becoming the first celebrity in Japan to speak out for elephants. The Yomiuri Giants shared the press conference on multiple social media platforms, making it possible for Yoh’s message to reach the Japanese public on this important topic.
Protecting elephants is an issue that resonates with animal lovers around the world. They are sentient beings with emotions and social behaviors evocative of humans, and they are synonymous of Africa’s natural wonders and heritage. The announcements from Taiwan and the United Kingdom give us heart at a time when elephants face critical threats to their very survival and need all the help they can get.