New U.S. ivory ban could slow elephant slaughter

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Can a new U.S. regulation limiting the ivory trade help slow the slaughter of African elephants? Photo courtesy USFWS.

USFWS closes loopholes that helped illegal ivory traders

Staff Report

A new regulation finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give federal investigators more tools to combat the illegal ivory trade, helping to close some loopholes that wildlife traffickers have exploited.

The rule, which is basically a near-total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory, is being touted as a significant step in protecting endangered elephants.

During a recent three-year period, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory, an average of approximately one every 15 minutes, and poaching continues at an alarming rate. The carcasses of illegally killed elephants now litter some of Africa’s premiere parks. Elephants are under threat even in areas that were once thought to be safe havens.

“Today’s bold action underscores the United States’ leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it’s having on wild populations,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species.”

The final rule prohibits most commerce in ivory, with some exceptions for musical instruments, furniture pieces and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria. Antiques, as defined under the ESA, are also exempt from the act’s prohibitions. This 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 USFWS 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.”

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.

Desire for elephant ivory, mostly in Asia, is so great that it grossly outstrips the legal supply and creates a void in the marketplace that ivory traffickers are eager to fill. Perpetuating legal trade only serves to stimulate this consumer demand and further threaten wild elephant populations.

During the last year, the Service consulted extensively with groups that will be impacted by the new trade controls for ivory. The rule provides detailed guidance on the transportation and trade in limited types of ivory products that are still allowed. The Service will provide additional implementation guidance on the rule before it goes into effect July 6, 2016, 30 days following publication in the Federal Register.

“We listened carefully to the legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholder groups and, as a result, are allowing commonsense, narrow exceptions for musicians, musical instrument makers and dealers, gun owners and others to trade items that have minimal amounts of ivory and satisfy other conditions,” said Ashe. “These items are not drivers of elephant poaching and do not provide cover for traffickers.”

The final rule will publish in the Federal Register June 6, 2016, at which time it will be available at http://www.regulations.gov under docket no. FWS–HQ–IA–2013–0091. For more information on the final rule, please see http://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/questions-and-answers-african-elephant-4d-final-rule.pdf.

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