Elephant skins, legs, ears and tails will continue to be traded in the UK even after the ivory ban comes into force next month, it has been learned.
The government has been praised for its Ivory Act 2018, which comes into force next month, making the buying and selling of elephant tusks punishable by fines of up to £250,000 or up to to five years in prison.
However, a loophole will allow trade in other elephant body parts to continue.
According to official data, the UK has imported 325 non-ivory elephant parts over the past 10 years, including 173 skins, 84 feet, 47 ears and 21 tails.
More than three quarters of imported elephant parts were hunting trophies, with Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe being the most common countries of origin.
Dr Mark Jones, policy officer at the Born Free Foundation, said: “Born Free has long campaigned to end the ivory trade that has devastated elephant populations across Africa for decades. , and we welcome the fact that the UK Ivory Act will finally come into force on June 6th.
“However, elephant body parts continue to be sought for a variety of purposes, especially by trophy hunters whose cruel activities cause so much suffering and disruption.”
Under international treaties, trade in body parts of Asian elephants and some populations of African elephants has been banned since 1975.
However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) allows certain exceptions.
For example, the less ‘at risk’ elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are all fair game for body part traders, as long as a license is obtained.
A change to the law next month will make buying or selling ivory – even if it comes from less “at risk” elephant populations – a criminal offence, with only eligible antique items exempt.
The legislation, however, makes no mention of other elephant body parts – such as skins, legs, ears and tails – meaning they can continue to be bought and sold in the UK in under the old legal framework.
There are fears the legislation could create a confusing two-tier system, with law enforcement applying different rules to body parts of the same animal.
The feet of megafauna are sometimes used to create stools. Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi caused a stir in 2019 when he gifted visiting dignitaries with upholstered seats made from elephant feet.
Elephant skin is considered a remedy for eczema by practitioners of traditional Chinese and Southeast Asian medicine, who grind it and mix it with oils to create a paste.
Even elephant penises and trunks are sought after by traditional medicine brewers, although official trade data shows none of these body parts have been imported into the UK for at least the last decade .
Conservation groups have already denounced the Ivory Act for failing to clamp down on trophy hunters, who will not be bothered by the law change, as long as they say their import of ivory is purely for purposes” personal” and not “commercial”.
The government has pledged to ban big game hunters from bringing parts of endangered animals into the country by the end of 2021, although the law has still not been brought before parliament. Tory MPs who told the Guardian last month that his progress had been sabotaged by a ‘handful of very wealthy peers’.
A government spokesperson said: “Alongside our strict ivory trade ban, we are committed to banning the import of hunting trophies of iconic species, such as elephants – paving the way for the strengthening and support for their long-term conservation”.
Jones said: “We implore the UK government to deliver on its commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies from elephants and other endangered species without further delay and to end the import and trade of other specimens of elephants.”