Widespread poaching of African elephants is driven by global demand for ivory, and the UK’s legal market is being used as a cover for illegal trade – with some shipments destined for Asia, wildlife charity WWF-UK said.
While the UK government has pledged to tighten current ivory trade laws, WWF wants them to be stricter still with the trade in antique ivory banned alongside modern items, to set a precedent for other countries.
The call comes ahead of a parliamentary debate on the UK’s ivory trade controls, prompted by a public petition calling for the UK’s domestic market to be shut down, which received more than 100,000 signatures.
Commercial international trade in the ivory of African elephants is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).
But African elephants have seen numbers tumble by more than 100,000 in the last decade as a result of a surge in poaching to supply the illegal global trade in ivory meeting demand in countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam.
Action has been taken in recent months to clamp down on ivory, with China – home to the world’s biggest legal and illegal markets – announcing it will ban domestic trade by the end of 2017.
The US has introduced a near-total ban and Hong Kong has committed to closing its domestic market.
The UK government is expected to publish a public consultation on the UK’s ivory trade controls shortly.
Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF-UK, said: “During the time that parliament will debate the UK’s domestic ivory market, another six elephants could be killed by poachers.
“This is a matter of life and death. It is time for the government to take all possible action to end the illegal global ivory trade.
“We urgently need the UK to take a stand for elephants, continue to demonstrate global leadership and implement a ban without delay. Such a commitment will send a strong message that the UK refuses to play any part in the illegal ivory trade.”
Maria Mossman, of Action for Elephants, said she hoped the debate in Parliament would push the government closer to a full ivory ban.
She said: “The UK government must do what it has been promising for seven years and bring an end once and for all to this shameful trade.”