A British ban on ivory sales will be one of the toughest in the world in a bid to protect elephants for future generations, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said.
The robust measures will be brought into force through primary legislation and will cover ivory items of all ages, not just those produced after a certain date.
Government confirmation comes in the wake of a consultation on the issue, in which 88% of the 70,000 responses backed a ban.
Mr Gove said: “Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol, so we will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales to protect elephants for future generations.
“The ban on ivory sales we will bring into law will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past.”
Those found guilty of breaching the ban face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
“The response underlines that we are a nation which cares for #wildlife. In 2018 the UK must be front and centre of global efforts to end this insidious trade.”@michaelgove https://www.gov.uk/government/news/30000-respond-to-ivory-consultation-ban-during-christmas-week … #IvoryBan #GiantsClubSummit
Wildlife campaigners believe around 20,000 elephants a year are being slaughtered for their ivory, and that reducing global demand for their tusks is an important part of ending the carnage.
Defra said that in line with the approach taken by other countries, including America and China, there will be certain narrowly defined and carefully targeted exemptions.
Although tightened since the proposals were published for consultation, the exemptions still provide “balance to ensure people are not unfairly impacted”, the department said.
Items on this list include those comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume and made prior to 1947, and musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20% and made prior to 1975.
Rare and important items of their type, which are at least 100 years old, will be assessed for their rarity and importance by specialist institutions before exemption permits are issued.
There will also be a specific exemption for portrait miniatures painted on thin slivers of ivory which are at least a century old.
Commercial activities to and between museums accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland and the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK, will also be exempt.
Charlie Mayhew, chief executive of the Tusk Trust, welcomed the “tough legislation” and said the “narrowly defined exemptions are pragmatic”.
“The ban will ensure there is no value for modern day ivory and the tusks of recently poached elephants cannot enter the UK market,” he said.
WWF chief executive Tanya Steele said the ban makes the UK a “global leader in tackling this bloody trade” and called for “global action” to stop the poaching of the “majestic” elephant.
Currently, the US federal ban exempts all items older than 100 years as well as items with up to 50% ivory content.
The Chinese ban exempts ivory “relics”, without setting a date before which these must have been produced.
ZSL director of conservation Matthew Hatchwell said legal domestic ivory markets are “intrinsically linked to the illegal ivory trade that is driving the current poaching crisis”.
“With almost 20,000 elephants poached in the last year, it is vital that countries take significant steps such as those outlined by the UK Government today to close their markets and help make the trade in ivory a thing of the past,” he added.
Defra said the ban will build on existing Government work to tackle poaching and the illegal ivory trade.
This includes British military personnel training African park rangers in poacher interception techniques in key African countries, and Border Force officers sharing their expertise in identifying smuggled ivory with worldwide counterparts.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare also welcomed the move, with head of policy and campaigns at the charity, David Cowdrey, stating it “shows the Government is serious”.
“This ban will send a clear and unequivocal message that ivory trade is over and rightly being consigned to the history books,” he added.
Stop Ivory chief executive John Stephenson said it is a “significant day for the future of elephants”, adding the Government has “taken a momentous step”.
“The end of the ivory trade in the UK removes any hiding place for the trade in illegal ivory, and sends a powerful message to the world that ivory will no longer be valued as a commodity,” he said.
“Ivory belongs on an elephant and when the buying stops the killing will stop.”