What can US domestic policy do for African elephants halfway around the world? A lot, it turns out.
American demand for ivory products directly fuels the poaching of elephants for their tusks, and better US policies to restrict the sale of such products has a global impact.
Case in point: the proposed ivory regulations announced by President Obama from Kenya and formally released by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) this morning.
These regulations propose stregthening existing ivory regulations from years past by restricting the export of worked ivory out of the country and by prohibiting the sale of ivory across state lines, with some limited exceptions.
Furthermore, the new USFWS regulations greatly reduce the number of sport-hunted elephant trophies allowed into the US - although even one endangered animal killed for sport is one too many.
Although IFAW would prefer to see a total ban on ivory sales in the US, we believe that these proposed regulations are a good step in closing longstanding loopholes that have allowed the illicit trafficking of elephant parts to thrive.
Most importantly, they shift the burden of proof to the seller to show that the ivory he is selling is legal.
This allows law enforcement agents to more effectively enforce the law and ensure that people are not selling ivory that is coming from newly poached elephants. There are exeptions in the proposed rule for legal sale of antiques (items over 100 years old) and certain other objects that have a small amount of ivory and that meet a number of other specific critera.
The public comment period for the proposed regulation is open for 60 days, and although IFAW will be pushing for even tougher restrictions, we are pleased with the federal government’s position on the need to more closely regulate the ivory trade in our country and commend the USFWS for cracking down on this barbaric market, to which the majority of Americans are opposed.
We have seen powerful special interest groups oppose any regulation of ivory sales in the United Staes, and we know they will organize to prevent finalization of any rule that regulates sales of ivory. It will be vital for the USFWS to receive our comments and yours supporting the strongest possible restrictions on ivory sales in the United States to protect elephants from slaughter.
This proposal comes on the heels of a massive ivory crush in Times Square conducted by the USFWS and supported by a coalition of wildlife organizations. Meanwhile, state legislatures across the country are proposing bills to eradicate the sale of ivory within their borders.
This momentum is cause for optimism.
Still, elephants are in a precarious situation. Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory. If we do not end the senseless slaughter of the species, it is likely that they will disappear from the planet.
What’s worth more: a carved trinket for your mantel or the lives of these majestic creatures?
Fortunately, the US has chosen the latter.
This story was originally published on International Fund for Animal Welfare.