US Bans Commercial Sales of Ivory

While the US continues to allow our wolves to be decimated, at least we’re taking action on the massacre of elephants and rhinos in Africa.

Since President Obama issued an executive order last summer, the US destroyed its stockpiles of ivory, and was followed by China and France. Gabon and The Philippines had already destroyed theirs.

Now, the US is completely banning commercial sales of ivory – it can no longer be imported or exported, and any sale of ivory that’s already here must conform to the Endangered Species Act.  The sale of rhinoceros horn has been banned in the US since the late 1970s.

Elephant Tusks

Even though it’s been illegal to import ivory for decades, much of poached ivory (and other products from wildlife trafficking) either travels through or ends up in the US. Now, if sellers can’t prove it is legally obtained – such as antique ivory – it will be confiscated.

"It has been impossible for law enforcement, through observation, to identify whether ivory was purchased before 1989 [when the US banned imports] or was antique. Shifting the burden to the seller to prove an artifact’s age is a huge development, Jeff Flocken from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told the Washington Post.

"Wildlife trafficking has doubled since 2007, and is now estimated to be the fourth largest transnational crime in the world," says Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior. It brings in about $17 billion a year – much of it funding terrorists – following only narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. It is now the most immediate threat to many species such as elephants, rhinos, big cats and apes.

US Strategy

Last week, the White House released details on the National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking to "strengthen US leadership on addressing the serious and urgent conservation and global
security threat posed by illegal trade in wildlife." 

The Strategy is based on three priorities: strengthen domestic and global enforcement; reduce demand for these products; and strengthen partnerships with international governments, local communities and NGOs to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trade.

Congress appropriated close to $50 million this year to fight illegal wildlife trafficking, but years of cuts to agencies like Fish & Wildlife still leave them with too few staff.

African forest elephants could be extinct within 10 years if the killing isn’t stopped. "This is not just about elephants," Hillary Clinton said when she announced an $80 million international effort last year. "It is about human beings, governments, trying to control their own territory, trying to keep their people safe, as well as protect their cultural and environmental heritage."

In January, a Chinese man was convicted in a Kenya court of smuggling ivory and received a sentence of either seven years in jail or a 233,100 fine – the first conviction under the country’s racheted up anti-poaching law.

The World Wildlife Fund and other nonprofits are using drones to deter and find poachers and British troops are providing military training to park rangers. 

Once numbering in the millions, Africa’s elephant population is dropping by 10% a year (35,000) and is down to 500,000 or less, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

How You Can Help

When you purchase "Save Vanishing Species" postal stamps at your local post office or online, the money goes directly to anti-poaching efforts of the FWS. Many non-profit organizations are involved in the effort from the World Wildlife Fund to those that target specific animals like the Elephant Action League below – all of whom need financial and volunteer support.

You can report anything related to poaching, trafficking and illegal logging at the new WikiLeaks-style website, WildLeaks. Within a day of coming online, the website started receiving tips – the first one from the US, Andrea Crosta told Huffington Post.

Here’s the White House fact sheet:

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