UK law to ban ivory trade, colonial India items to be exempt
The Theresa May government confirmed on Tuesday that it will bring a law to ban ivory sales to protect elephants, but most ivory items during the ‘British raj’ that were either gifted or brought to the United Kingdom at the time will be exempt.
Environment secretary Michael Gove said the ban will cover ivory items of all ages – not only those produced after a certain date.
The maximum penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.
Official sources said the number of elephants has declined by almost a third in the last decade and around 20,000 a year are still being slaughtered due to the global demand for ivory, mostly in Africa and Asia.
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”.
Buckingham Palace and museums in Britain possess several colonial-era ivory items from India, drawing criticism from royal family members such as Prince Charles and Prince William, who have campaigned against slaughter of elephants for ivory.
Prince William has reportedly remarked that he would "like to see all the ivory owned by Buckingham Palace destroyed", while Prince Charles is said to be keen that ivory items at Clarence House and Highgrove to be put out of sight.
One of the ivory items from colonial India in royal possession is the exquisite throne gifted by the Maharaja of Travancore to Queen Victoria in 1851, which has rarely been seen in public since it was first displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.
Reflecting the craftsmanship of Travancore (now Kerala) artisans, the throne with a footstool was despatched to London in October 1850 and displayed in the exhibition in Crystal Palace the next year.
Queen Victoria wrote to the Maharaja of Travancore after the exhibition: “Your Highness’s chair has occupied a prominent position amongst the wonderful works of art which have been collected in our metropolis and your highness’s liberality and the workmanship of the natives of Travancore have there received due admiration from the vast multitude of spectators”.
The exemptions to the ban are: Items with less than 10% ivory by volume, made prior to 1947; musical instruments with ivory content of less than 20% , made prior to 1975; rarest and most important items of their type, at least 100 years old, their rarity and importance to be assessed by specialist institutions.
Museums and their commercial activities to, and between, museums which are accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland or the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK, will also be exempt, the sources added.