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US bans most elephant ivory trade in attempt to curb poaching

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Seizure of illegal elephant tusks in Kenya
Seizure of illegal elephant tusks in Kenya

Trading elephant ivory is now all but banned in the United States, in a move that the government hopes will curb poaching from elephants' dwindling populations. With a series of administrative actions today, the federal government has banned all commercial imports and nearly all commercial exports of elephant ivory. Interstate sales will be limited to antiques — which must be at least 100 years old — and intrastate sales will be limited to items legally imported in the past. The rules are significantly tighter than those previously in place, which allowed a wide selection of older ivory pieces to be traded. Rhino horn trade will also be banned with limited exceptions.

Trade of elephant ivory will be severely limited

"Because of the actions of poachers, today species like elephants and rhinoceroses face the risk of significant decline or even extinction," Grant Harris, the White House's senior director for African Affairs, writes in a blog post announcing the new policies. Harris says that the ban will help to ensure that the United States is not contributing to the illegal ivory trade or the poaching of elephants. "Given escalating threats to African elephants, we have also decided to implement a ban on commercial elephant ivory trade to ensure that US markets do not contribute to the decline of this iconic species," he writes.

Elephant poaching in particular has soared in recent years, with much of the increased demand stemming from China. The US has tried to send a signal to poachers that those involved in the illegal ivory trade would be stopped and prosecuted, but making business harder may for them may ultimately have the bigger impact by making poaching less profitable. The new rules won't hinder ivory trade where it's most important, but the White House says it's hoping other countries will take similarly decisive actions in response.