Warning: Distressing image of a poached elephant below
An estimated 20,000 elephants are still being killed each year for their ivory, and despite the high-profile meetings and the bravado of ivory crushes, there has been little to no change in this rate over the past few years. In response to this, President Barack Obama has announced that the United States will introduce even more stringent controls, tightening laws to ban the sale of ivory within the country.
“I can announce that we’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” said Obama at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, during his recent state visit to the country.
This dramatic shift in how the U.S. treats the sale of “white gold” follows U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s recent trip to China and Vietnam, during which she sought to build international cooperation in an effort to combat wildlife trafficking. As one of the world’s largest consumers of wildlife, both legal and illegal, this is a move to try and remove the U.S. from playing a hand in the decimation of Africa’s elephants.
“If our children – and their grandchildren – are to grow up in a world where they appreciate their natural heritage and can see elephants in the wild and not just in the history books, then we owe it to them to shut down avenues that motivate poachers to go after these iconic animals,” said Jewell in a statement.
“As we work to put the brakes on poaching and prevent elephants from going extinct in the wild, we need to take the lead in a global effort to shut down domestic markets for illegal ivory. Today, we are making it harder for criminals by further shutting the door to the American market.”
The new rules will stamp out virtually all trade between states. Under the new rules, the government claims that the U.S. will not be contributing to the poaching and illegal trade crisis currently ripping through Africa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) notes, however, that the complete ban on sales of ivory would not be helpful, and could in fact hinder elephant conservation if museums and researchers were stopped from being able to share collections and samples.
“By tightening domestic controls on trade in elephant ivory and allowing only very narrow exceptions, we will close existing avenues that are exploited by traffickers and address ivory trade that poses a threat to elephants in the wild,” said Dan Ashe, director of the FWS. “Federal law enforcement agents will have clearer lines by which to demarcate legal from illegal trade. We want to ensure our nation is not contributing to the scourge of poaching that is decimating elephant populations across Africa.”
Carcass of a young elephant poached, along with 22 others, in Garamba National Park, DR Congo in March 2012. Credit: ENOUGH Project/Nuria Ortega/ANP/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0