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The UK Plans to Ban the Ivory Trade Almost Completely in Big Win for Elephants

In this file photo from Dec.17, 2012, a herd of adult and baby elephants walks in the dawn light as the highest mountain in Africa, Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, is seen in the background, in Amboseli National Park, southern Kenya.
Ben Curtis/AP

At the turn of the 20th century, more than three million elephants roamed Africa’s savannas and forests. A hundred years later, that number hovers somewhere between 450,000 and 700,000 — a drop of 75% to 85%. Each year, 20,000 more are killed by poachers. 

Now, the United Kingdom, currently the world’s leading exporter of legal ivory carvings, is taking action to ensure that the elephant population doesn’t fall any lower. 

According to the BBC, the UK government will hold a consultation lasting until Dec. 29 with the aim of banning the sale of ivory from all time periods, with the exception of four categories of ivory items: musical instruments; items with only a small proportion of ivory; items of significant historic, artistic, or cultural value; and sales between museums. 

While the UK has already partially banned ivory sales, this action would expand the limit on ivory sales to include “antique ivory produced before 1947.” 

“The decline in the elephant population fueled by poaching for ivory shames our generation,” UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a statement. “The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world’s most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute.”

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Read More: Britain Exports the Most Ivory in the World: Report

The UK’s Prince William has been an outspoken advocate for tougher regulations of the ivory trade. William has met with former US President Barack Obama, as well as President Xi Jinping of China to discuss limiting the ivory trade, People reports.

“I am not prepared to be part of a generation that lets these iconic species disappear from the wild,” William said in 2016. “I am not prepared to explain to our children why we lost this battle when we had the tools to win it.” 

In January, China announced that it would ban the ivory trade by the end of 2017. 

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Read More: Gripping New Documentary Shows Plight of These Vanishing African Animals

The UK, which has announced a £13 million ($17 million) investment in combating the illegal wildlife trade, exports an estimated 36,000 legal ivory items, but conservationists say even the legal ivory trade stimulates poaching in Africa, according to BBC

The new regulations, according to Gove, will put the UK “front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory.” 

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