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According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), ivory can be used to describe any “mammalian tooth or tusk of commercial interest which is large enough to be carved or scrimshawed”, although it contends that the term was “traditionally applied only to the tusks of elephants”. 

In August 2016, the Great Elephant Census reported that savanna elephant populations declined by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014, equivalent to the loss of 144,000 elephants. The survey found the current rate of decline in numbers was 8 percent per year, which researchers who conducted the survey contend is primarily due to poaching. Likewise, conservation organisations such as Tusk, also attribute the decline in elephant numbers to poaching, mainly due to an increase in demand for ivory.

Data gathered by the Environmental Investigation Agency for the period 2010–15 has revealed that the UK was the largest exporter of legally traded ivory with 36,135 items exported globally. In comparison, the second highest exporter was the United States, with 9,824 items. The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, surveyed antique markets in London and found that there were fewer individual market stalls selling ivory in 2016 compared to 2004, declining from 640 to 200 stalls. The total number of products containing ivory for sale also fell, from 6,000 in 2004 to 3,200 in 2016. Conservation groups such as Elephants DC contend that there are several issues related to antique ivory, particularly, in illegal ivory entering legal markets disguised as antique ivory, due to difficulties in determining how old a piece of ivory is. Whilst museums and antique dealers contend that antique ivory is part of the UK’s cultural heritage.

To tackle the illegal wildlife trade, the UK has taken several measures, including, being a party to the CITES, which aims to ensure the international trade in specimens of plants and wild animals does not threaten their survival. In addition to their commitments under the Convention, successive UK governments have sought to introduce a ban on the sale of ivory. The Government argues that its proposals for a total ban would go further than CITES, by proposing to prohibit ivory sales in the UK, and to prohibit the import and export of ivory for sale to and from the UK.

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