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Antiques trade in High Court bid to quash UK’s landmark Ivory Act

LONDON: A law designed to protect elephants, passed with overwhelming popular support and cross-party Parliamentary backing in 2018, could be struck off the statute books because of resistance from the antiques trade.

The UK Ivory Act – which introduces tough regulations on the buying and selling of ivory from, to and within the UK – received Royal Assent in December 2018 but will now be subject to Judicial Review at the High Court on 16 October.

“To lose this law before it has even taken effect would be a tragedy for Africa’s elephants,” said John Stephenson, CEO of Stop Ivory. “The UK is one of the world’s leading exporters of antique ivory and sends more to China and Hong Kong than any other country.

“Any legal trade in ivory provides cover for the illegal trade because it is difficult to distinguish between antique and newly carved ivory. Moreover, it fuels a continued demand for ivory by perpetuating its perceived value in the eyes of consumers and making it a socially acceptable commodity.”

The antiques lobby group, a company of antiques dealers and collectors called the Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures Ltd (FACT), argues that the Ivory Act is incompatible with EU law, which allows trade in pre-1947 ‘antique’ ivory. The group also claims the act infringes antiques dealers’ human rights by not letting them buy or sell ivory.

However, the European Commission is currently considering new restrictions on ivory trade across Europe which are based in part on the UK Ivory Act and even use similar language. Other countries, such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, have introduced, or are in the process of introducing, similar legislation also based on the Act.

Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which has campaigned against the ivory trade for decades, said: “The UK Ivory Act has been welcomed globally as an important step in stifling a demand for ivory which threatens elephants in the wild. So we’re extremely concerned about attempts by British antiques dealers to have the UK ban quashed.”

While the antiques trade claims the UK Ivory Act will result in “substantial economic damage” to the industry, ivory accounts for less than one per cent of annual sales in many UK auction houses.

The Act does not prevent individuals from owning ivory, from passing items on as family heirlooms or donating it to museums and includes a number of carefully crafted exemptions.

The UK Ivory Act also has the support of many African countries with significant elephant populations, which are calling for stricter controls on the sale of ivory abroad as they struggle to control poaching at home.

Thirteen African governments belonging to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) signed a statement hailing the passing of the Act in 2018: “We believe the UK’s new law will … support and encourage enforcement efforts and initiatives to reduce ivory trafficking in Africa, and around the world.”

Approximately 55 African elephants are poached every day, an unsustainable rate of loss.

According to a 2017 survey, 85 per cent of the British public are in favour of the UK Ivory Act.

A decision from the High Court is expected before the end of the year.



  • Paul Newman, EIA Press & Communications Officer, via press[at] or +44 (0) 20 7354 7983
  • Barnaby Phillips, Elephant Protection Initiative Communications Director, via bphillips[at]



  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
  2. The Elephant Protection Initiative is a coalition of 20 African countries with common policies on elephant conservation. Stop Ivory is dedicated to ending the ivory trade.
  3. Ten leading NGOs worked together to support the British Government to ensure the passing of the UK Ivory Act. The members of the coalition are: Born Free Foundation, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Investigation Agency, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Natural Resources Defence Council, Space for Giants, Stop Ivory, Tusk, Wildlife Conservation Society and Zoological Society of London.