Booming Asian economies fuel huge poaching and wildlife trafficking issues
FRISCO —Federal wildlife managers hope that a near-total ban on the U.S. ivory trade will help slow the slaughter of elephants poached for their tusks.
By some estimates, as many as 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012 — about one every 15 minutes. Elephants are threatened in formerly safe areas, and some of Africa’s most famous wildlife parks are littered with carcasses.
Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed new regulations that would prohibit most interstate commerce in African elephant ivory and further restrict commercial exports. The proposed rule builds upon restrictions put in place last year following President Obama’s Executive Order on combating wildlife trafficking.
“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,” Jewell said in a prepared announcement.
Earlier this month, Jewell met with government leaders in China and Vietnam to try and build more international support for anti-poaching and wildlife trafficking. Growing wealth in parts of Asia has fueled an enormous surge in the demand for all sorts of wildlife products, not just ivory.
“The United States is among the world’s largest consumers of wildlife, both legal and illegal,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “We want to ensure our nation is not contributing to the scourge of poaching that is decimating elephant populations across Africa.”
Investigations have shown that wildlife traffickers are exploiting current regulations providing for legal trade in ivory as cover for trade in illegal ivory. In one particularly high-profile investigation, FWS special agents seized more than one ton of elephant ivory – the largest seizure in U.S. history – from a Philadelphia art store owner. Much of the seized ivory, though disguised to look old, had been newly acquired from elephants poached in central Africa. Earlier this year, the owner of a seemingly legitimate Florida fine art auction house pleaded guilty to a wildlife trafficking and smuggling conspiracy involving objects made from elephant ivory, rhino horn and coral.
“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 Ashe. “Federal law enforcement agents will have clearer lines by which to demarcate legal from illegal trade.”
The proposed revisions to the African elephant rule under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would prohibit most interstate commerce (sales across state lines) in African elephant ivory and would further restrict commercial exports.
The ban includes some exceptions for certain pre-existing manufactured items such as musical instruments, furniture pieces, and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory. The USFWS says that legal trade in these items does not contribute to the current poaching crisis. Antiques, as defined under the ESA, are also exempt from its prohibitions.
For more information on the proposed ivory rule, please see http://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/african-elephant-4d-proposed-changes.pdf.
The proposed rule will publish in the Federal Register on July 29, 2015 and be open for public comment for 60 days. FWS will review and consider all comments received by September 28, 2015 before publishing a final rule. Please go to www.regulations.gov, docket no. FWS–HQ–IA–2013–0091.