In a significant move to protect one of the world’s most cherished species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month completed a rulemaking process under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to institute a near-total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory.
The rule, effective June 6th, fulfills restrictions outlined under President Obama’s 2013 Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking. It substantially limits imports, exports and sales of African elephant ivory across state lines.
Wildlife trafficking reduces the economic, social and environmental benefits of wildlife while generating billions of dollars for organized criminal enterprises, contributing to an illegal economy, fueling instability and undermining security.
The final rule prohibits most commerce in ivory but makes specific, limited exceptions for certain pre-existing manufactured items -- such as musical instruments, furniture pieces and firearms -- that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria. Antiques, as defined under the ESA, are also exempt from the act’s prohibitions.
This rule is limited to African elephant ivory and does not further regulate ivory derived from other species, such as walrus, whale and mammoth.
The new rule will provide federal agents with clearer lines of demarcation to identify illegal ivory. Desire for elephant ivory, mostly in Asia, is so great that it grossly outstrips the legal supply and creates a void in the marketplace that ivory traffickers are eager to fill. Perpetuating legal trade only serves to stimulate this consumer demand and further threaten wild elephant populations.
During a recent three-year period, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory, an average of approximately one every 15 minutes, and poaching continues at an alarming rate. The carcasses of illegally killed elephants now litter some of Africa’s premiere parks. Elephants are under threat even in areas that were once thought to be safe havens.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who serves as co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, said the United States hopes that “other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species.”