With many species of wildlife currently threatened by extinction, including the African elephant, the White House announced on Tuesday a ban on the sale of ivory within the USA. The executive order, signed by President Barack Obama, is part of a plan aiming to crack down on the trafficking of wildlife in general in the United States. The move is being hailed by animal conservationists as a “significant milestone” in the worldwide fight against poaching of the pachyderms.
The importation of ivory has been banned in the USA since 1989. However, the new plan, which is part of the National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking, aims to go further, by banning the sale of the majority of ivory products in the country altogether, as well as limiting sport-hunted trophies to a maximum of two per hunter each year.
The problem is that despite the ban on importation, ivory products can still be found in antique and art stores in most cities across the USA, according to senior administration officials. One official, requesting anonymity, told the media that the only place to see the majesty of these items is on actual living elephants or rhinoceros, in their native habitat.
The new initiative comes as soaring ivory prices have attracted increased trafficking, mainly through criminal groups. Reportedly ivory sells these days for $1,500 per pound.
In the Africa of the past, millions of elephants used to roam the plains, but with around 35,000 elephants lost every year to poachers, the total number of elephants remaining is down to around 500,000 or possibly even less.
Dame Daphne Sheldrick is a conservationist who says that the demands could wipe out the elephant species in about 10 to 15 years. She estimates that one of these magnificent creatures is killed every 15 minutes by poachers in Africa.
To give an example of numbers remaining, Kenya reportedly had 170,000 elephants 30 years ago, but now has only an estimated 30,000 remaining.
In Gabon, alone, over a third of the country’s forest elephants have been lost in the last ten years. Reportedly in the Minkebe National Park, on the border with Cameroon, losses are even higher, with around 15,000 of the remaining 22,000 killed by poachers.
Hence the urgency is reaching a peak and in an attempt to stem the flow of ivory in illegal and other sales, the White House has now announced the ban of the sale of elephant ivory in the USA.
In 2013, Tanzania adopted a shoot to kill policy when dealing with suspected poachers. Dubbed “Operation Terminate,” the policy apparently was working well and numbers of elephants killed was cut, but the policy was dropped due to a claim of human rights abuses in the country.
There are a few exceptions, however, to the new rules. For instance, if sellers can prove that their item for sale is over 100 years old, this would be allowed.
Also of interest is that not only elephants and rhinos will be protected by the new initiative. Animals ranging from tigers to turtles, which are often slaughtered for their hides or other parts for sale by criminal syndicates, will also come under its protection.
The video included below gives details of a recent massacre by poachers in Kenya, where an entire family of these magnificent creatures were gunned down for their ivory. Warning, the video is graphic and may upset sensitive viewers.
Officials also announced that in 2014, besides the ban of the sale of elephant ivory in the USA by the White House, Congress has given an additional $3 million to enforce the wildlife trafficking laws. WARNING: the video below contains very disturbing images.
By Anne Sewell