The elephant poaching crises reached its peak last year with about 30,000 of these amazing species slaughtered for their tusks. Seizure data collected for 2014 so far shows that this year could be even worse.
But the U.S. is committed to ending this tragedy, as shown by President Obama today when he released a first draft of a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. As you may remember, this strategy comes as a result of the Executive Order to Combat Wildlife Trafficking President Obama announced in July, which also created a Task Force to address the illegal wildlife trade.
Perhaps the most exciting part of this strategy are U.S. restrictions on the commercial trade of elephant ivory, which will prohibit the import, export, or resale within the United States of elephant ivory in most circumstances. The ban includes a prohibition on the importation of antique ivory into the U.S., which will close a major loophole in U.S. law that has enabled the U.S. ivory market to flourish. Indeed, because U.S. law currently has exceptions for antique ivory, and it’s extremely difficult to tell how old ivory is, wildlife traffickers have imported much of the ivory into the U.S. by claiming it’s old when, in fact, it’s from recently killed elephants. The U.S. is the world’s second biggest ivory market, behind China, with New York, Hawaii, and California as its epicenters, which today's commitment will curb significantly. It will also make the U.S. look more legitimate when pressuring other countries to do more—it’s difficult to criticize when we weren’t doing a whole lot ourselves!
We still have a long way to go in the fight to protect elephants, and we will be working hard to support the federal government in implementing this strategy, as well as working to complement their work. For example, more can be done to regulate the interstate sale of ivory and the export of antique ivory products, which can create opportunities for black market sales. Congress must act to get rid of the U.S. legal trade entirely. And states must strengthen their ivory laws, which is why we’re supporting legislative efforts in states including New York and Hawaii.
However, this is a huge step forward for elephants – and for people. Today, I felt hopeful that we can reverse this course and that someday my future kids will get to see elephants for themselves. As the President wrote in the Strategy, we have the power to “ensure that our children have the chance to grow up in a world with and experience for themselves the wildlife we know and love.”