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08 Jan 2019

Museums exempt from new UK ivory laws

Trading of items containing elephant ivory between "accredited" museums is one of the few exemptions contained within the UK’s new Ivory Act, which gained royal assent to become law in December 2018 and comes into force late in 2019.

The bill, which was introduced by Britain's environment secretary Michael Gove, introduces a total ban on dealing in items containing elephant ivory, regardless of age, within the UK, as well as exporting from or importing to the UK. It establishes a new compliance system to allow continued trading in exempt items, and brings in tough penalties for those found guilty of breaching the legislation.

Elephant numbers have declined by almost a third in the last decade and around 20,000 a year are still being slaughtered to meet global demand for ivory.

There are a handful of exemptions, including that of sales between accredited museums (those accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government, or the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK; those accredited by the International Council of Museums for those outside the UK).

Other exemptions include musical instruments with an ivory content of less than 20 per cent that were made prior to 1975, items that comprise less than 10 per cent ivory by volume and made prior to 1947, portrait miniatures made before 1918, and items of "outstanding artistic, cultural or historic significance" made before 1918, which will be subject to the advice of specialists at institutions such as the UK’s most prestigious museums.

The passing of the Ivory Act has drawn considerable praise from organisations around the world for the UK Government.

"Stopping the brutal trade in ivory is crucial to end trafficking and ensure a future for elephants," said Paul De Ornellas, chief wildlife advisor at WWF.

"The UK government has listened and is showing decisive leadership. Now we need China, the major destination for illegal ivory in recent years, to resolutely enforce its trade ban. It’s also equally important for other countries on the Chinese border to commit to closing their ivory markets."

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