It's Official: U.S. Now Has a Near-Total Ban on African Elephant Ivory

In a huge victory for elephants, the Obama Administration today announced its final regulations to restrict the commercial trade of elephant ivory in the United States. Combined with the other actions the Administration has taken over the last three years, this amounts to a near-total ban on our country’s commercial ivory trade.

With more than 100,000 elephants poached for their tusks between 2010 and 2012, this magnificent species is 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 one of the final pieces of its efforts to restrict the U.S. ivory trade—a move NRDC has been pushing for through ads, advocacy, and other means.

The regulations, which reference the NRDC-commissioned report on California’s ivory market, further restricts ivory exports and the interstate trade of ivory. As we stated in comments submitted last summer, these regulations could be stronger in a few ways. Namely, the regulations allow hunters to import two elephant trophies into the U.S. per year (down from an unlimited number), while NRDC doesn’t support ANY hunting of endangered species like elephants.

However, as a whole the regulations will go a long way towards eliminating the U.S. ivory trade – especially when paired with the laws NRDC and our partners have helped pass in the top three U.S. ivory markets: New York, California, and Hawaii.

The timing of this announcement couldn’t be better. 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.

The U.S. ban also positions our country well for this fall’s International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation and meeting of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), at which proposals to increase international protections for elephants will be considered.

Of course, there’s no doubt the Administration’s regulations will be vehemently opposed by special interests like the NRA and Safari Club International, who want to maintain the status quo. In fact, we are dealing with such opposition right now as we defend California’s ban from legal challenge brought by a wealthy ivory collector. We’ll be working hard to similarly protect the great strides the Administration has made, including from possible legal challenge and from enemies in Congress.  

About the Authors

Elly Pepper

Deputy Director, Wildlife Trade Initiative and Wildlife Advocate, Land & Wildlife Program

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