In a surprise move coinciding with a major conference about elephant poaching in London, the United States government this week announced a total ban on all ivory trade apart from certificated antiques over 100 years old or objects legally imported before 1990.
Announcing the ban from the White House, President Barack Obama said it was in response to ‘the serious and urgent conservation and security threat posed by illegal trade in wildlife.’ It prohibits the import or export of ivory to the United States as well as trade between states.
Presently an average of four elephants an hour are being poached, mainly for the trinket-carving trade in China. In the past 10 years the great herds in Central Africa have been devastated, dropping the elephant population from several million a century ago to an estimated 450 000.
Last year the United States, the second-largest ivory trading nation after China, symbolically pulverized six tonnes of confiscated ivory. The latest move proves that Obama means business.
‘The entire world has a stake in protecting the world’s iconic animals,’ he wrote in the strategy document. ‘The United States is strongly committed to meeting its obligation to help preserve the Earth’s natural beauty for future generations. ‘We will partner countries to think beyond business as usual and secure commitments from governments to take action and to treat wildlife trafficking as a serious crime.’
The ban also shifts the burden of proof of whether ivory is legal from the government to the ivory holder, who must prove it was not smuggled. American sport hunters of elephants will also be restricted on what they can bring back home. Until now, big-game hunters have been using loopholes in African and US laws to import large numbers of ‘culled’ elephant heads, including ivory. Now they will be limited to importing two elephant trophies a year.
The ban coincided with an international meeting in London to confront the poaching crisis. Hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron and attended by Prince Charles, delegates from 14 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America demanded a permanent ban on international and domestic trade in ivory and the destruction of all government-held stockpiles.
The US ban was welcomed by local environmentalists. ‘This is a huge step forward in the war against ivory trafficking,’ said Francis Garrard of the Conservation Action Trust. ‘It gives the US the moral high ground to demand that China follows suit.
‘In the wake of a European Union resolution calling on members to destroy ivory stockpiles and recent ivory crushes in France, the US, Hong Kong and the Philippines, this is a clear sign that the international goundswell is against both trade in ivory and other endangered species.’
‘We encourage other nations to follow suit,’ said Yolan Friedman of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. ‘Relentless slaughter of wildlife is threatening the very future of Africa’s natural and cultural heritage.’
Veteran environmental campaigner Colin Bell described the US ban an an encouraging start to initiatives aimed at reversing the elephant poaching scourge that is devastating one of Africa’s greatest wildlife treasures.