U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Delivers Final Set of Elephant Protections

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Yesterday, in an announcement made from the Global Entrepreneurship Conference in Kenya, President Obama announced critical, long-awaited regulations regarding the U.S. ivory market. With more than 100,000 poached for their tusks between 2010 and 2012, elephants are in serious trouble. And the U.S. is part of the problem as a significant source of ivory demand.

Fortunately, in 2013, the Obama Administration committed to doing something about our country's role in the growing ivory trade and the ensuing poaching crisis. Today's announcement constitutes the final pieces of its promised near-ban on the U.S. African elephant ivory trade, which NRDC has been pushing for through ads and other means.

Among other things, the proposed regulations, which reference the NRDC-commissioned report on the California ivory market, ban the interstate trade of ivory with exemptions for antiques (i.e., 100 years or older) and for items that contain only a de minimis (200 grams) amount of ivory.

We don't see a problem with a de minimis exception, which is similar to the one contained in ivory legislation NRDC helped pass in New York last year. It will stop the vast majority of illegal ivory commerce, allowing a limited trade in items that have not been found to contribute to the current elephant poaching crisis. Indeed, as the rule states, "the vast majority of items in the illegal ivory trade are either raw ivory (tusks and pieces of tusks) or manufactured pieces (mostly carvings) that are composed entirely or primarily of ivory." This exemption will allow interstate commerce of most instruments with ivory in them, such as violin bows and pianos with ivory keys. And it will enable auction houses and antique dealers to continue selling the vast majority of their antiques since most of them contain contain under 200 grams of ivory.

However, the fact that the proposed regulations continue to allow the interstate trade - and export - of antique items as well is problematic since it's extremely difficult to date ivory. Indeed, our nation's allowance of commerce in old ivory is exactly what caused the parallel illegal ivory market we are now struggling to combat. Ivory sellers simply sneak new ivory onto their shelves by pretending it's old and, thus, legal. And with the de minimis exemption already allowing for the interstate sales of the vast majority of antiques, this exemption is completely unnecessary.


The proposed regulations also limit trophy hunting of elephants. Currently, U.S. hunters can import an unlimited amount of elephant trophies hunted in Africa into the U.S. But the proposed regulations limit this to two trophies per hunter per year. NRDC doesn't support ANY hunting of endangered species like elephants. But is this a step in the right direction? Yes.

It's important to note that the proposed rules do NOT further restrict intrastate commerce in ivory, making the state legislation we helped enact in New York and New Jersey and are currently working to pass in California all the more important!

Today's news is an important step in the right direction, but we still have lot's of work to do. We'll be pushing hard to ensure that these regulations are improved--not watered down by special interests like the NRA who have opposed the Administration's elephant protections from the start. We are well on our way to saving elephants--now is not the time to give up!