The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed rules under the Endangered Species Act that institute a near-total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory.
While commercial imports of African elephant ivory are already banned, the new rules close other loopholes in our country's ivory laws by further restricting ivory exports from the U.S. and sales of ivory items between U.S. states, along with reducing the number of elephants that trophy hunters can import into the country — which had previously been unlimited.
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 are also exempt from the act’s prohibitions. The rule is limited to African elephant ivory and does not further regulate ivory derived from other species, such as walrus, whale and mammoth.
“Since we proposed this rule in 2015, we received more than 1.3 million comments from the public, demonstrating that Americans care deeply about elephants and overwhelmingly support African elephant conservation,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Our actions close a major avenue to wildlife traffickers by removing the cover that legal ivory trade provides to the illegal trade. We still have much to do to save this species, but today is a good day for the African elephant.”
Federal law enforcement investigations demonstrate that wildlife traffickers have exploited prior regulations allowing for legal trade in ivory. Under current laws, once illegal ivory enters the market, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish from legal ivory, limiting the effectiveness of law enforcement efforts to intercept black market shipments and catch traffickers. The new rule will provide federal agents with clearer lines of demarcation to identify illegal ivory.
Environmental organization Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says the laws are likely to be challenged by the National Rifle Association and other groups that are against an ivory trade ban. NRDC says it is preparing to go to court if necessary to protect the new federal rules from pro-ivory special interests.
The organization is already involved in legal challenges including in California where it is defending the state's ivory ban against a suit brought by a big-time ivory collector.
A few weeks ago, the state of Hawaii passed legislation banning its ivory trade, eliminating what had been the third largest U.S. ivory market. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature. Because the federal government has limited authority when it comes to ending wildlife trade within states, this legislation is critical to cracking down on ivory sales where federal regulations can't, says NRDC.
In April, Carnival Corporation joined the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, a coalition of non-profit organizations, companies, foundations and media interests that work closely with the U.S. government in a collaboration to reduce the purchase and sale of illegal wildlife products in the United States.
According to recent estimates from the U.S. Department of State, wildlife trafficking generates approximately $10 billion per year in illegal profits for criminal syndicates that are masterminding the killing, transport and marketing of illegal wildlife products. Wildlife trafficking has contributed to nearly 50 percent of the entire African lion population being decimated over the past three decades and approximately 100,000 elephants killed for their ivory in a recent three-year period - an average of approximately one every 15 minutes.