The United States today announced a near-complete ban on the commercial ivory trade, marking a historic step forward in ending the global elephant poaching crisis. This is just the latest of nearly three dozen major rulemaking actions addressing animal protection concerns during President Obama’s two terms, and one in which the president himself has taken an active interest, having made a number of public statements on the poaching crisis and its threat to elephants and African nations.
The rule, announced this morning by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will bar the sale of ivory from African elephants across state lines and further restrict commercial exports. It will provide very limited exceptions for interstate trade of antique items that are over 100 years old or contain a small amount of ivory.
The rule comes just a week before the United States-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the eighth such session between the two countries with the most active ivory markets in the world. U.S. action in this arena has encouraged China to pledge to follow suit, replicating our own domestic policies to end the ivory trade in the world’s most populous nation.
In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, responding to an HSUS legal petition, said it will consider increasing Endangered Species Act protections for the African elephant.
In recent years, we have called on Congress, the Administration, and states to take action against the illegal trade in ivory because elephant poaching has surged in the past decade. Poachers are killing elephants faster than they are able to reproduce. It is estimated that every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for his or her ivory.
Poaching and wildlife trafficking don’t just terrorize animals; they fuel terrorism and instability around the world. 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.
Today’s historic announcement from the USFWS is by no means the end of the battle – more like the next stage of it. The fight against poachers and traffickers requires not just action from the government, but a transformational shift in how we, as humans, view and interact with wild animals. No animal should be killed to churn out dispensable luxury goods. Elephants and other wildlife are worth far more alive than dead, and it’s this principle that I discuss extensively in The Humane Economy. Wildlife viewing draws millions of people to Africa each year, and enthusiasts spend billions of dollars annually that these nations use to educate children, pay for vaccinations, and provide jobs to people in both urban and rural areas.
Ivory looks best on its original owners. Killing elephants and hacking off their tusks enriches terrorists, robs Africa of one of its great revenue generators, and denies future generations the opportunity to see these iconic creatures. The policy announced today is the right one on so many levels, and The HSUS applauds the USFWS and the Obama Administration for taking this important step.
P.S. Even as we celebrate a national policy on the ivory trade, it’s critical to remember that the states have a key and complementary role in the battle against the ivory trade and wildlife trafficking. A ballot initiative in Oregon would protect some of the world’s most iconic animals, including elephants, rhinos, lions, sea turtles, rays, and sharks. Visit Save Endangered Animals Oregon for more information on how we can get this initiative qualified in the weeks ahead and passed this November.