A near total ban on the import, export and dealing of items containing elephant ivory comes into force today in the UK (June 6).

Elephants are commonly targeted for their ivory tusks and the demand for ivory is known to contribute to poaching, driving a decline in elephant populations.

The ban will ensure vital protection for the world’s elephants by putting a stop to the UK trade in ivory.

The ban covers ivory items of all ages, not only those produced after a certain date, allowing only a narrowly defined set of exemptions.

As a result, it will now be illegal to deal in ivory items unless they have been registered or have an exemption certificate.

The number of elephants free in the wild has declined by almost a third, with the savanna elephant population plummeting by around 30% – equal to 144,000 elephants – across 15 African countries between 2007 and 2014.

Those found guilty of breaching the ban will face tough new penalties including an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said:

“The world-leading Ivory Act coming into force represents a landmark moment in securing the survival of elephants across the globe for future generations.

“Thousands of elephants are unnecessarily and cruelly targeted for their ivory every year for financial gain. As one of the toughest bans of its kind, we are sending a clear message the commercial trade of elephant ivory is totally unacceptable.

“The UK has long led the way in conservation and our ban shows continued global leadership in doing all we can to protect the world’s most endangered species”

Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at Born Free:

“Born Free has long campaigned for an end to this trade, so we are pleased to finally welcome this Act.

“Its implementation must now be sufficiently robust to ensure only items that genuinely meet the exemption criteria can be traded in future, and that any transgressions are dealt with promptly and severely”