This week saw President Obama impose the near-total ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory within the United States. The adoption of the law comes following the joint announcement last year by the US and China that they will crack down on the sale of ivory, which is thought to be driving the slaughter of over 20,000 elephants each year by poachers.
The new ruling, issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, will not only toughen the rules on the sale of ivory internationally, but will also ban it from being traded across state lines. There will be exceptions for antiques that are over 100 years old, or objects that contain relatively small amounts of the stuff such as musical instruments like pianos, but apart from that, the laws are much stricter than anything that has come before. The trade ban will also not affect museums and researcher institutes who need to send samples around the country for study.
“We received over one million comments in response to the proposed rule, the considerable majority of which expressed overwhelming support for stricter regulation of the commercial ivory market to help protect African elephants,” said the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “We believe this rule strikes an appropriate balance of allowing certain narrow exceptions for activities that do not contribute to elephant poaching and illegal trade in ivory while also achieving our primary goal of ensuring that the US market is not contributing to the current poaching crisis.”
In most cases, it has been legal to sell ivory as long as it was harvested before the international ban on the trade of ivory, which came into place in 1989. This was in an attempt to prevent the sale of any newly acquired ivory, though in reality it has simply given an easy route by which to get fresh ivory onto the market, by falsifying papers to claim that it is older than it really is. This has resulted in little change in the number of elephants being slaughtered for their tusks.
In fact, a report released earlier this year showed that despite the overall number of elephants being killed for their ivory decreasing for the fourth year in a row, there are still more being killed than being born. Some regions are being hit worse than other, for example, while in Kenya the levels of poaching have continued to drop, other areas such as West Africa are thought to have lost 62 percent of its forest elephants over the last decade alone.
The US is the second largest market for illegal ivory, and so the new changes to the law are hoped to make a significant difference. In fact, the price for ivory in the markets of China, the largest market for the product, is already thought to be dropping in response to the ban. Next week will see US officials travel to Beijing for further talks aimed at stopping the trade, while it is hoped that pressure can also be put on Japan to also follow suit.
Main image: Ivory crush in times square, earlier this year. US Fish and Wildlife Services/Flickr CC BY 2.0