Barack Obama tightens restriction on sale of elephant ivory within the US to clamp down on illegal trade.
Barack Obama imposed a near total ban on the commercial trade in elephant ivory on Thursday in an effort to choke off smuggling networks and end the slaughter of African wildlife.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service rules ban the sale of elephant ivory across state lines, and deepen restrictions on international ivory sales.
Under the new rules, only antique items more than 100 years old – such as a figurines or chess pieces – or objects containing relatively small amounts of ivory, such as pianos and other musical instruments, will be legal for sale.
The rules – which received personal attention from President Obama, and Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state – were the strongest action to date to cut off the trafficking of ivory which has devastated the African elephant population.
The US is the second destination for illegal ivory, after China.
US officials will visit Beijing next week for talks with Chinese officials aimed at further choking off the global ivory trade. But Peter Knights, the chief executive of WildAid, said ivory prices in Asia were already dropping, in response to the ban. He said he hoped Japan would move soon to cut off the illegal trade.
An estimated 96 African elephants are killed every day for ivory, sold across Asia and the Americas.
Obama first confronted wildlife trafficking in 2013, with an executive order funding training for African police forces and park rangers outgunned by armed trafficking gangs who were slaughtering elephants and rhinos for their body parts.
Other measures restricted ivory sales and the import of hunting trophies. But before the new rules on Thursday, ivory could be bought or sold within the US if it was imported before the animal was listed as endangered, or if the elephant died of natural causes.
Campaign groups said those loopholes merely provided cover to the poachers fuelling an illegal trade that reversed years of conservation efforts.
The spike in elephant slaughter reverses years of conservation efforts after the initial ban on international commercial ivory trade in 1989. As a result of the ban, poaching was reduced and prices for contraband ivory fell sharply.
But since 2000, “one-off” sales of ivory and domestic trade in China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam provided cover for the sale of recently poached elephants.
Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation and an adviser to the Obama administration’s trafficking task force, praised the tougher rules.
“Strong laws around wildlife crime and strong enforcement of those laws are absolutely critical in deterring traffickers and poachers, and each country has an obligation to review and strengthen its laws, close loopholes and otherwise simplify the role of law enforcement in combatting the illegal wildlife trade,” he said in a statement.
Over the past decade, the traffic in ivory rose to the level of a security threat, with intelligence officials charting connections between the trafficking gangs and extremist groups such as the Lords Army.
“Poaching and wildlife trafficking don’t just terrorise animals; they fuel terrorism and instability around the world,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society in the US.