Calling it a “sobering and daunting crisis,” U.S. government officials announced today a national strategy to combat the surging trade in elephant ivory and other wildlife products. The announcement follows an executive order President Barack Obama issued in Tanzania in July 2013 for the U.S. government to improve its efforts to fight wildlife trafficking.
The new directive is particularly aimed at stopping the commercial trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. The two species are among “the most beloved and magnificent animals” now “facing significant declines” because of uncontrolled poaching in Africa, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said in a teleconference with reporters today. At one time, several million elephants roamed the African continent, they noted, but their numbers have been slashed to less than 500,000. Some 35,000 elephants are now being killed each year, while 1000 rhinoceros were poached in South Africa alone last year.
The commercial demand for ivory and rhinoceros horn stems from the high prices they command: Rhinoceros horn now sells for $45,000 a pound (slightly more than the price of gold) and elephant ivory for $1500 a pound, according to Ashe. As a result, there has been an “escalating criminalization” in the trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn, Ashe said. And the United States has emerged as one of the world’s largest markets for ivory and other wildlife products, both legal and illegal.
In response, FWS will impose a ban on the commercial trade of elephant ivory within the United States, including resale and exports. Commercial elephant ivory in any form, including antiquities, can no longer be imported. Only items that can be proved to be antiques—more than 100 years old—will be allowed to be sold in the United States. The burden of proof will be on the seller.
The United States is also often a transshipment point for wildlife products, other officials noted, with items being shipped into New York, for instance, and then reshipped to countries such as China. This includes illegal shipments of fish, birds, reptiles, snakes, and coral. New regulations will be enacted to stop these illegal activities.
The administration has formed a task force to create a national strategy to strengthen the enforcement of regulations concerned with the trade in wildlife products both in the United States and abroad. “We want to ensure that the United States is not contributing to the decline of the elephant and rhinoceros,” an official stated. “It is a global challenge, but we plan to have a much more dramatic impact through these actions.”