In an effort to protect elephants in Africa, during a visit to Kenya this past weekend President Obama announced sweeping regulations that will hopefully wipe out the market for ivory in the U.S.
It’s estimated that 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers for their ivory between 2010 and 2012, or one every 15 minutes, while headlines continue to spread devastating news about the ongoing losses of entire families, beloved individuals and orphans who are left behind.
The rate at which they are being slaughtered for nothing more than their tusks has raised concerns that these iconic animals could disappear within our lifetime.
As the second largest market for ivory behind China, the U.S. has been called on by wildlife advocates to step up its efforts to tackle wildlife trafficking with meaningful action. In 2013, President Obama issued an Executive Order addressing wildlife trafficking, and now a proposed rule, which was just formally announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), aims to build on that and further crack down on the trade of ivory.
According to the FWS, in addition to adding further restrictions on commercial exports, the proposed rule will ban the sale of ivory across state lines, although it will allow for exceptions of certain pre-existing manufactured items that meet specific criteria.
Now it’s hoped that these new restrictions will close existing loopholes that have allowed the illegal trade to flourish and be another valuable step to protect elephants.
International sales of ivory were banned under CITES in 1989, but the loopholes in question still allow people to own and sell ivory that was imported before that, which is known as ‘pre-ban’ ivory, and they allow exemptions for antiques.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the difference and allowing legalized ivory sales on the market has continued to offer a cover for the illegal trade. The issue is made more confusing by a patchwork of state and federal laws concerning ivory that make it difficult to determine what’s legal and makes it harder for law enforcement to act.
“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 Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who serves as co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. “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.”
While officials are working to address the poaching crisis, conservationists are also working to increase protection for elephants who are also threatened by habitat loss and climate change. In June, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to have them declared as two separate species – forest elephants and savannah elephants – and upgraded from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act, which would add even more strength to laws intended to protect them.
Hopefully the latest efforts from the U.S. will help send a strong message that the future survival of elephants far outweighs the value of items made from ivory.
The proposed rule will be published on July 29 and will be open for a 60-day public comment period. If you would like to make one in support of tougher regulations for the ivory trade, you can submit one at the Federal Register.
Please also sign and share the petition urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclassify elephants and upgrade their status to endangered.