US adopts near total ban on commercial ivory trade

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.

  • This article was amended on 2 June to correct the surname of the chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation. It is Bergin, not Garrigan.


Suzanne Goldenberg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
African wildlife officials appalled as EU opposes a total ban on ivory trade
European commission’s opposition to a proposed global ban will spell the beginning of a mass extinction of African elephants, warn officials from 29 African states

Arthur Neslen

06, Jul, 2016 @2:13 PM

Ivory stockpile to be publicly destroyed as Obama seeks to end illegal trade

TV cameras to record smashing of tusks and intricately carved items – but African elephants are already on brink of extinction

Suzanne Goldenberg in Denver

11, Nov, 2013 @7:00 AM

Article image
Ban on domestic ivory trade passes at international summit
Motion not legally binding but may stem poaching, which has killed nearly one third of Africa’s savanna elephants between 2007 and 2014

Oliver Milman

11, Sep, 2016 @5:10 PM

Article image
Kenya to burn biggest ever stockpile of ivory
Tusks from over 6,000 illegally killed elephants will be set alight in Nairobi national park to highlight the poaching crisis

Fiona Harvey

29, Apr, 2016 @1:33 PM

Article image
Rare bird being driven to extinction by poaching for its 'red ivory' bill
Helmeted hornbills’ solid red beak sells for several times the price of elephant ivory due to soaring demand on the Chinese black market

Damian Carrington, Johannesburg

28, Sep, 2016 @7:48 AM

Article image
Wildlife trade summit is a 'do or die' moment for endangered animals
Conservationists urge countries to give imperilled species the highest level of protection at the global Cites summit opening on Saturday to prevent them becoming extinct in the wild

Damian Carrington

23, Sep, 2016 @3:25 PM

Article image
Experts fear impact of China lifting trade ban on tiger and rhino parts
Burden of enforcement will hit poorer nations already struggling to cope, say conservationists

Jonathan Watts

03, Nov, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
Prince William warns poachers are outrunning efforts to stop wildlife trade
Animals are still being killed in horrifying numbers despite global efforts to stop the poaching crisis, says prince at Hanoi summit

Adam Vaughan

17, Nov, 2016 @10:44 AM

Article image
Thailand's prime minister pledges to outlaw domestic ivory trade
Yingluck Shinawatra's announcement on opening day of Cites wildlife summit offers hope in war on elephant poaching

Damian Carrington

03, Mar, 2013 @4:03 PM

Article image
Swaziland acting as 'puppet' to South Africa in bid to legalise rhino horn trade
Top conservationists criticise the proposal – announced just days after neighbouring South Africa dropped its bid for legal trade – saying it will open the gates for a black market

Adam Vaughan in Nairobi

27, May, 2016 @9:51 AM