UK ivory ban to be extended to five more vulnerable species, including hippos and killer whales

A conservation charity said the government’s plans will “go a long way” to crack down on a “damaging trade”

Trading ivory from a hippo, walrus, narwhal, killer whale and sperm whale will soon be banned under new government plans.

The government wants to give “greater legal protections” to these five species which are already at risk from climate change and habitat loss.

Hippopotamus, walrus and sperm whale are already listed as vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.

Conservationists worry that poaching the animals for ivory will bring them closer to extinction, but the government said the plans will send a “clear message” that the ivory trade is “totally unacceptable”.

The import, export and dealing of elephant ivory was banned in the UK last year under the Ivory Act which was passed through Parliament in 2018. People found to be breaking the law can be given unlimited fines or be jailed for five years.

UK ivory ban to extend to hippos, killer whales and three other species. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock) UK ivory ban to extend to hippos, killer whales and three other species. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock)
UK ivory ban to extend to hippos, killer whales and three other species. (Photo: NationalWorld/Kim Mogg/Adobe Stock)

The government will extend the Act to include the five other species but Parliament must first vote before it can come into force.

Biodiversity Minister Trudy Harrison said the Ivory Act is “one of the toughest bans of its kind in the world”.

Hippos, killer whales and sperm whales are poached for their teeth, while narwhals and walruses are hunted for their tusks.

Conservation charity Born Free found 621 individual online ivory listings in the UK, with a total guide price of more than £1.2 million during an investigation carried out in September last year.

The ivory items outlined in the report were found to be sold on three online websites including Barnebys - a popular auctioneer and antique dealer search engine - eBay and specialist online marketplace, Antiques Atlas.

The charity said “thankfully” the numbers were a significant decrease in the volume traded before restrictions were introduced.

However, it warned that the ban on elephant ivory trafficking had led to poachers targeting hippos as there was found to be an increase in the trade of hippo teeth.

The charity said last year: “Hunting for ivory is a primary threat to hippo populations, with their teeth often regarded as a substitute for elephant ivory.”

According to a European Commission report in 2020 hippo teeth were among the mammal body parts most often seized in the EU.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare welcomed the government’s proposal to extend “this powerful legislation”.

The charity told the BBC it will “go a long way in cracking down on a damaging trade” and it is a step towards change in “international commitments to safeguard our natural world”.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said “the case for extending the act to hippopotamus ivory is very clear” as after elephants “this species is the most at risk from the trade in its ivory.”

The government department said that the extension of the act “would ban dealing in ivory from these species in the UK, including imports into the UK for the purposes of sale or hire”.

But it added that individuals such as tourists “could still travel to the region, purchase items containing ivory from these species directly from indigenous communities and bring them back into the UK as personal possessions.”

It said the ban would “remove any incentive for illegal killing of these species for their ivory to supply a UK market.”

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