The UK will introduce one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales in a bid to protect elephants for future generations, the Environment Secretary has said.
Michael Gove confirmed robust measures will be brought into force covering ivory items of all ages, with limited exemptions, to tackle the “abhorrent” trade.
It comes after a public consultation on the issue, in which 88% of the 70,000 responses backed a ban.
Those found guilty of breaching the ban face a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.
Exemptions will include items made before 1947 that are less than 10% ivory and musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20% made prior to 1975.
Rare and important items, which are at least 100 years old, will be assessed by specialist institutions before exemption permits are issued, the Government said.
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.”
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.
The Duke of Cambridge, who is patron of the conservation charity Tusk, has previously called for an end to the ivory trade, saying the material is a “symbol of destruction, not of luxury”.
Tusk’s chief executive Charlie Mayhew 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.
The UK Government said the ban will build on existing 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.