U.S. to enforce strict elephant ivory ban

The United States will enforce a “near-total ban” on the commercial trade of elephant ivory.

The move, announced today by the Fish & Wildlife Service, comes after years of campaigning by environmental and conservation groups over the large-scale slaughter of elephants across Africa and Asia. Conservationists immediately welcomed the decision.

“The USA is shutting down the bloody ivory market that is wiping out Africa’s elephants,” said Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which founded the “96 Elephants” campaign against the ivory trade. “The USA is boldly saying to ivory poachers: You are officially out of business.”

“We must never forget that we must stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand.”

Andrew Wetzler, deputy chief program officer at the National Resources Defense Council, echoed that sentiment.

“It is essential that the U.S. protect the lives of elephants by helping eliminate our country’s role in the deadly ivory trade,” stated Wetzler in a press release. “Today’s announcement builds on the Administration’s previous actions to combat wildlife trafficking, as well as the bans passed in the top U.S. ivory markets: New York, California, and Hawaii. Together we are slowly but surely ending our country’s significant contribution to the elephant poaching crisis.”

The finalised rule — a revision of the Endangered Species Act — limits the legal trade in elephant ivory to antiques that are over a century old and certain pre-existing manufactured products that contain less than 200 grams of ivory. Previously, ivory could be traded if it had been imported prior to 1978, the year the U.S. first listed African elephants as endangered. Critics said the old rule provided a loophole for laundering ivory from freshly killed elephants.

“Federal law enforcement investigations demonstrate that wildlife traffickers have exploited prior regulations allowing for legal trade in ivory,” explained a statement from the Fish & Wildlife Service. “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.”

Conservationists hope the measure foreshadows a potential move by China — the world’s largest ivory consumer — next week.

The USA is boldly saying to ivory poachers: You are officially out of business.

Cristián Samper, president and CEO, Wildlife Conservation Society,ohn Smith

“The timing of this announcement couldn’t be better,” wrote NRDC Wildlife Advocate Elly Pepper in a blog post. “The U.S. State Department will meet with the Chinese government next week for the 2016 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, where wildlife trafficking will be one of the main topics of conversation. Hopefully China will follow the United States’ lead and move to quickly implement a domestic ivory ban, as it committed to do last year.”

WCS’s Samper hopes other countries will follow suit.

“This US ban on ivory sales, along with the commitment of a ban in China and several African nations, shows how two influential nations can join together to ensure a future for wild elephants. If these actions of the US and China are repeated by all nations, we could reverse the decline of elephants.”

Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid, a group that has been heavily involved with anti-ivory campaigns in China, added that Japan is the next critical target in the ivory market.

“Illegal ivory markets drive the poaching of 33,000 elephants a year. Today, the US has taken a lead on closing loopholes that enable those markets. China and Hong Kong have pledged to ban sales as well, and we hope that can happen quickly.

Ivory prices in Asia are falling rapidly, and we would expect to see a reduction in poaching as a result. If Japan, the next largest market, can also act, we may be able to end this crisis for the elephants.”

Research indicates that 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa between 2010 and 2012 for their tusks. Forest elephants from Central Africa were particularly hard hit, with those populations falling by two-thirds in eleven years.

Beyond the wildlife carnage, the ivory trade has reportedly helped support criminal groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army based in Uganda.

“Poaching and wildlife trafficking don’t just terrorise animals; they fuel terrorism and instability around the world,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, in a blog post.

“Profits from the sales of poached elephant tusks pay for sophisticated transnational criminal syndicates to smuggle arms, humans, and other illicit goods, and there’s evidence that the illegal ivory trade is helping finance extremist groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army and Sudan’s Janjaweed militias.”

This story is published with permission from Mongabay.com

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