The banning of ivory, if it truly prevents the killing of elephants, is to be commended but it appears it has its drawbacks.
For it now transpires that it is currently killing hippos, conservationists have said, as poachers and hunters take advantage of a loophole in the new law.
The Ivory Act, which will come into force later this year, was championed by Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, but conservationists argue that it puts hippos at grave risk as the import of their tusks will still be legal.
Hippo ivory, which resembles that of an elephant, is being increasingly traded globally, with 12,847 hippo teeth and tusks, weighing 3,326kg, bought and sold in 2018. Trade increased from 273 items in 2007 to 6,113 in 2011.
Records show that in 2007 just 4 hippo tusks and skulls made it back to the UK. By 2017 that number has jumped to 18. This does not include the many items that incorporate hippo tusks, such as ornaments, furniture and musical instruments which do not have to be registered with authorities as they are legally traded.
However, hippos are even more endangered than the elephant, while there are 400,000 elephants left in the wild but just 130,000 hippos.
Auctioneers have seen an increased amount of interest in hippo ivory because of the legislation, as restorers worry about its effect on business.
James Lewis, a top auctioneer who has appeared on the BBC show Flog It!, said ‘there is an increased interest in hippo ivory. That interest isn’t coming from carvers or people trying to make new pieces, but from restorers who are concerned about the legislation on the ivory contents of antiques.’
Campaigners have called on the government to close the loopholes to ensure the ban applies to all ivory bearing animals. They have also warned that it is nearly impossible to tell whether a tusk is from a hippopotamus that was slaughtered recently or many years ago, or whether it was poached or legally killed.
Will Travers, president of the Born Free foundation, said ‘authorities were shifting pressure onto hippos by only banning ivory from elephants.’ He said ‘I sometimes can’t tell the difference between different types of ivory, and I’ve been in this for 35 years. It also gives illegal smugglers a cover. Go to Gatwick and ask them to tell the difference between a piece of elephant tusk and a piece of hippo tusk. They won’t be able to. Hippos are already being negatively impacted. We have to have a blanket ban on ivory.’
MPs and celebrities have asked Mr Gove to consider banning ivory at the same time as elephants.
British hunters are also taking advantage of the fact they can legally bring back hippo carcasses as trophies.
Eduardo Goncalves, of the campaign to ban trophy hunting, said ‘despite being classed as vulnerable hippos are the 2nd most popular target animals among British trophy hunters.
‘Over 350 trophies from hippos have been brought back into the UK over the past decade.’
Elephants or hippos have been the target of collectors throughout the world as far as one can remember, but the illegal killing of these animals must be stopped as their extinctions will rob the world of these magnificent animals – a disaster which must never be allowed to happen.
Ivory to me is the best that nature can provide, so we must protect it come what may.