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Elly Pepper’s Blog

U.S. Limits Ivory Sales!

Elly Pepper

Posted February 11, 2014

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Thumbnail image for mom and babe elephant.jpg

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.”

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ClearieFeb 11 2014 10:54 PM

This ban leaves a huge gaping hole for continued illegal ivory trade by allowing so-called antiqued ivory. It is no coincidence that the auction houses declined to participate in the recent NY state ivory ban hearing.

The elephant conservation group Elephants DC gave this response on their facebook page to the news of the U.S. ban:

"Elephants DC opposes the "exception" of antique ivory and lawmakers have said it creates loopholes for illegal trade. WE also oppose the slaughter of ANY elephant for so-called sport.Elephants have every right to exist in peace as intelligent, highly evolved, family rooted and loving guardians on earth.

We will, moving forward, be addressing with government officials:

White House: "Clarify the Definition of “Antique”: To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act. The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria."

White House: "Support Limited Sport-hunting of African Elephants: We will limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year." No elephants should be killed for 'sport' -ever..."

Kay BeamsFeb 12 2014 05:20 PM

I thought the ban included antique ivory. So they can still use the loophole for antique ivory by saying it is old? And why are they allowing the killing of 2 elephants per year as sport-hunted trophies per indivudual. With the elephants being killed at the rate that they are no elephants should be allowed to be killed for sport. I don't understand how the change helps anything.

Elly PepperFeb 12 2014 08:19 PM

Thanks for your comment Kay. You’re right. According to the White House fact sheet on the strategy, the Administration will ban all commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques. This is a big improvement over the current law, which allows imports of ivory at least 100 years old and creates a huge loophole since ivory is very difficult to date. In other words, a lot of ivory is currently entering the U.S. by people claiming that it’s old, and thus legal, when it’s not. Unfortunately, the fact sheet indicates that the antiques exception will be retained for domestic sales and exports so we will be offering comments encouraging the Administration to get rid of this exception altogether. You can access the White House fact sheet here: I don't know as much about the sport hunting provision, but I'll be looking into it soon!

Gloria MoffettFeb 13 2014 11:48 AM

Stop the madness of killing these beautiful creatures!!! I hope that all those that think it's okay to kill even 2 a year get their Karma! There is NO NEED TO KILL THEM FOR ANY REASON!!!!!!! In this day and age why do allow this to continue?? WE need to get rid of the antiques executions NOW TODAY!! There isn't any reason for it to still be in effect. We need to rid ourselves of the HUNT period!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ConnieFeb 13 2014 02:50 PM

A big nation like the U.S.A. should know
better and not accept the trade of Ivory in
this country or any country in the world.
We must put an stop to this. These are
beautiful animals that should be left alone.

TonyFeb 13 2014 03:02 PM

Have you ever lived or traveled in the rural areas of East Africa, e.g., Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania? If you have, then you should have learned how great a problem elephants are for the people in East Africa and other countries. In these countries, there are TOO MANY elephants, and they contribute to abject poverty.

Like whales, elephants are hauntingly majestic and should not be killed indiscriminately. Unlike whales, elephants cause untold local problems. Unlike some whale species that are have approached extinction over the last century, the African elephant population is quite robust, even if it is smaller than it was decades ago.

Many rural people earn their living entirely through farming, and they are financially quite poor, even by African standards. Herds of elephants routinely trample through the "family farm", destroying much of the family's income for the season. Sometimes elephants maim or kill a farmer trying in vain to protect his/her livelihood. Since elephants are protected, a farmer would go to jail and/or be fined if he/she shot them. I have ZERO tolerance for poachers, but I am forced to ask you if the farmers (and their families) would be better off if the countries allowed them to kill marauding elephants and sell the ivory themselves.

These countries also have numerous "elephant parks", which I would describe as an amalgam of a national park and a zoo. Millions of dollars are spent annually husbanding animals that nobody wants or needs, and that escape at will to cause the destruction I described. The moneys come from contributions from well-meaning, well-off westerners like ourselves, and from the national governments (under influence from western lobbying).

I strongly suggest that these moneys (contributions and government sources) would be much better spent providing health care for the farmers and families whose livelihood the elephants frequently obliterate.

We desperately need to better care for our entire earth -- air, water, plants, animals, and people. But we need a balance in that effort. Choosing elephants over the poor tells me we have lost the right balance.

NanetteFeb 13 2014 03:22 PM

Tony, I have a friend who has lived in Africa all her life and can tell you your stats are off on remaining elephant populations. As having studied ecosytems for a final project in college (not too long ago though I have passed half a century). We don't see it and can't understand it, but the ecosystems need to be maintained. Populations of elephants are endangered, in spite of the "parks".

L.D.CHICK.CLARKFeb 13 2014 08:28 PM

it is a shame that the congress and house does not pass a law cutting off all funds or federal aid to any country that allows trade in ivory,. oh I forgot we don't have a congress or senate anymore we have lobbyist who now runs the government

TonyFeb 14 2014 10:41 AM

Nanette, I did say that "ecosystems need to be maintained", i.e., in my words, that "We desperately need to better care for our entire earth -- air, water, plants, animals, and people". Since your college project was more than three decades ago, these are more recent stats: My original comments were based on living and studying wildlife in rural East Africa two years ago. The Defenders of Wildlife currently estimates that Africa has 450,000 to 700,000 elephants. The IUCN Species Survival Commission currently estimates Africa has 436,000 to 687,000 elephants, and that the numbers were unchanged since 2007. These stats do not say "endangered" to me. I remind the reader that we need to make difficult choices -- in this case, we need to choose between the impoverished rural African family that survives on rudimentary farming and the "satisfaction" of having even more elephants to trample their crops.

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