A 32-year-old man from Portsmouth has been sentenced to 1 years imprisonment suspended for 2 years for the illegal sale and export of elephant ivory from the UK. Chao XI from Portsmouth, Hampshire appeared at Portsmouth Magistrates Court on Thursday 3rd November where he pleaded guilty to two charges under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 and Customs and Excise Management Act 1979.
The case resulted from a joint investigation by the Hampshire Police and National Wildlife Crime Unit coupled with intelligence received from Border Force. In October 2015 the NWCU became aware of ‘ivory’ type objects being sold on the auction website eBay. Although described as ‘Bovine Bone’ it was strongly suspected the items were in fact ivory.
In 2009 eBay imposed a global ban of the sale of elephant ivory on their website. Intelligence gleaned by the NWCU during previous cases, indicated that some traders were advertising ivory as ‘Faux Ivory, ‘Ivory Colored’ ‘ox-bone’ or ‘cow-bone’ in an attempt to bypass eBay’s filters. Although evading eBay’s filters is not necessarily a crime, the sale of elephant parts and derivatives is prohibited under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997. However elephant ivory that is classed as ‘worked’ prior to 1947 is exempt. ‘Worked’ means that it has been altered from its natural state for jewellery, art, adornment, musical instrument or utility; so a piece of elephant ivory that was carved prior to 1947, would be exempt and it may be legal to sell it. Although legal to sell within the UK an export permit is required to sell an export worked ivory items outside the EU.
Enquiries conducted with eBay revealed that over a two-year period XI sold 78 ivory items valued at £6408 of these, 59 items valued at £4881 were exported outside the EU.
On the 17th February 2016 officers from the Hampshire Police and NWCU executed a search warrant at the home of XI, during the search another 55 items suspected of being ivory were seized, these were subsequently examined by Dr. Andrew Kitchener from Edinburgh University who confirmed that in fact 43 were elephant ivory one was hippopotamus and one was believed to be Sperm Whale. He also stated that 7 of these items were in fact classed as unworked. Dr. Kitchener was also able to state from examination of screenshots taken of the items sold on eBay that these were in fact Elephant Ivory.
XI was subsequently interviewed and admitted selling and exporting the items, at Portsmouth Magistrates court he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 1 years imprisonment suspended for 2 years, he was given a 1 year Community order with a requirement to do 150hrs unpaid work, costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £85 was also imposed.
When sentenced the Magistrate Rita Behan said:
‘Mr Xi I’m not going to say much to do with this matter apart from to say this is a despicable crime.
‘If no-one like you was selling the items then there would be no need for these beautiful animals to be killed in the wild, suffering long and painful deaths, and have small baby elephants dying because their mothers have been killed.
‘That sounds like quite an emotional response but in considering sentence we have set emotions to one side.’
This case comes after two investigatory documentaries, recently shown on the BBC, highlighted the possible impact that the legal sale of ivory in the UK may have in contributing to the illegal sale of modern ivory. At the recent CITES conference in Johannesburg all 183 parties in CITES, including the UK, promised to close down any Legal domestic market for ivory that is contributing to poaching or the illegal trade in ivory.