vanishing elephant closeup
Iconic African elephant population on the brink
05:49 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Britain is set to introduce “one of the world’s toughest” bans on ivory sales in a bid to protect elephants for future generations, the country’s Environment Secretary announced Tuesday.

The prohibition will introduce tighter legislation covering ivory items of all ages, save for a few limited exceptions, the government said. The penalty for violating the ban could be up to five years in prison.

“Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol,” Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a statement. “The ban will demonstrate our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past.”

The UK proposal is the latest move in the global fight against the ivory trade.

In 2016, the United States adopted a near-total embargo but exempted ivory items older than a century and containing less than 50% ivory, the UK government said.

China enacted its own ban on the sale of ivory products at the start of the year, but it exempts ivory “relics”, according to the British government.

The UK claims its ban is stronger.

Exceptions include items made before 1947 that are comprised of less than 10% ivory, musical instruments made before 1975 with less than 20% ivory, and rarities that have been assessed by specialists and are at least 100 years old.

The government said it had received more than 70,000 responses during the consultation period, with more than 88% respondents in favor of the ban.

The move has been welcomed by activists.

“The end of the ivory trade in the UK removes any hiding place for the trade in illegal ivory. Ivory belongs on an elephant, and when the buying stops, the killing will stop,” John Stephenson, CEO of Stop Ivory said in a statement.

In Africa, poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants a year for their tusks. Much of the demand for elephant tusks comes from China, where ivory is still seen by some as a symbol of luxury and wealth.

“Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets,” Tanya Steele, chief executive at World Wildlife Federation, said in a statement.

“We hope the UK will continue to press countries where the biggest ivory markets are, most of which are in Asia, to shut down their trade too.”