Elephants are killed for their ivory and the world loses an elephant every 15 minutes. The latest Great Elephant Census in 2016, estimates that the population of savanna elephants is down 30 per cent. 144,000 elephants have been killed since the last census in 2009.
When I was Secretary of State at DEFRA, I visited Kenya to see for myself the shocking decline in Africa’s elephant and rhinoceros populations. On return, I worked closely with the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to tackle the problem of international wildlife crime. At over $23 billion per annum, this is the fourth largest source of illegal income for criminals and terrorists. We understood that such an ambitious project required global agreement. We took a world lead and used the extraordinary scope of the UK’s international influence to convene the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade at Lancaster House in 2014. The London Conference was the largest ever of its kind, bringing together 46 countries. It agreed a strategy to prevent poaching: improving enforcement, reducing market demand and supporting communities to find viable economic activities. The London Declaration also saw the creation of the Elephant Protection Initiative by five African leaders, calling for domestic ivory markets to close and support for elephant conservation under a common platform.
Internationally, the US domestic market closed last summer, with workable, pragmatic exemptions for some antiques. China – the largest market in the world – is committed to act before the end of the year. We saw the first concrete signs of this commitment at the end of March, when the closure of 67 (one-third) of Chinese ivory factories and retail stores was announced.
The UK must act now to ensure that we do not fall behind and lose our prominent world leadership on wildlife crime. With the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference returning to London in 2018, the gaze of the international community will be firmly upon us once again. We must take action to prove to the world that we are willing and able to lead on this issue as we have done before.
DEFRA will shortly be launching its consultation on a UK ivory ban, which was announced in September. Since that announcement and a debate in Westminster Hall in February, a great deal of effort has gone on behind the scenes, with members of the Government, MPs, conservationists and representatives of the antiques trade striving to find a common workable position which can be agreed upon and implemented rapidly.
We should proceed with our commitment to introduce tighter legislation to close the domestic ivory market with appropriate exemptions covering objects of artistic, cultural and historical significance.
As the DEFRA consultation opens, we must ensure that all this international effort is translated into decisive, practical actions, which will stop poaching and save today’s elephants. If we do not, future generations will never forgive us.