Wildlife Trafficking External Affairs

New Restrictions on Commercial Elephant Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Trade

Questions and Answers

 

Q:

The national strategy calls for additional restrictions on commercial elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn trade in the U.S. What commercial trade will be prohibited?

A:

Nearly all commercial trade will be prohibited. Over the next few months, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will undertake a series of administrative actions to stop virtually all commercial trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in the United States.

All commercial imports of African elephant ivory will be prohibited.

Commercial imports of Asian elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn, and all elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn exports will be prohibited, except a small and very strictly defined class of documented antiques. The seller and buyer must be able to provide proof that it meets all legal requirements.

Domestic commerce will be prohibited, except (1) a small and very strictly defined class of documented antiques; and (2) in intrastate commerce only (i.e., not across state lines), items documented as legally imported prior to 1990 for African elephants, 1975 for Asian elephants, 1977 for black rhinoceros and 1975 for any other rhinoceros.

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Q:

What commerce will be legal?

A:

A strictly defined and narrow class of documented antiques will be legal. The seller and buyer must document that the antique meets all terms of the strict Endangered Species Act (ESA) statutory exemption. Only these documented antiques may be sold domestically, imported (except African elephant ivory, which is prohibited) and exported.

Items that do not meet the antique requirements but that the seller and buyer can document were legally imported prior to 1990 for African elephants, 1975 for Asian elephants, 1977 for black rhinoceros and 1975 for any other rhinoceros. These documented items may be sold only in intrastate commerce.

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Q:

If someone is considering buying elephant ivory or rhinoceros horn, or a product containing elephant ivory or rhino horn, what advice would you give them?

A:

If someone is trying to sell you elephant ivory or rhino horn, or something that contains elephant ivory or rhino horn, demand documentation and consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to purchase.

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Q:

What actions will the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service take to strengthen control over the U.S. domestic elephant ivory market and when will these actions take effect?

A:

Given the unparalleled and escalating threats to both African elephants and rhinos, we believe that a nearly complete ban on commercial elephant ivory and rhino horn trade is the best way to ensure that U.S. markets do not contribute to the decline of these species in the wild. To accomplish this, we will pursue specific administrative actions. Initial steps will be taken within the next several weeks. However, some of these actions will be open to public comment, so completion of some actions will take substantially more time.

      • Prohibit Commercial Import of Elephant Ivory: We will eliminate broad administrative exceptions to the 1989 African Elephant Conservation Act (AECA) moratorium that have allowed commercial import of antique ivory. We will issue a Director’s Order that will provide guidance to Service officers on enforcement of the existing 1989 AECA moratorium. The Order will lay out all of the actions to be undertaken by the Service to address the current crisis with elephants and rhinoceroses. We anticipate issuance of this Order by mid-February. We will also publish a proposed or interim final rule with an opportunity for public comment to revise the 1989 AECA moratorium as well as create regulations under the AECA in our general wildlife import/export regulations (50 CFR Part 14). We anticipate publishing a proposed or interim final rule by the end of June.

      • Clarify the Definition of “Antique”: We will incorporate the ESA’s exemptions for commercial trade of 100-year-old antiques into regulations that re-affirm the criteria that must be met for an item to qualify as an antique. In the same Order described above, we will provide guidance to Service officers on the antique exemption under the ESA. We anticipate issuance of this Order by mid-February. We will publish a proposed or interim final rule with an opportunity for public comment to revise our endangered species regulations (50 CFR Part 17) to provide guidance on the statutory exemption for antiques. We anticipate publishing a proposed or interim final rule by the end of June.

      • Strengthen Endangered Species Act Protection for African Elephants: We will propose to revoke the ESA African elephant special rule (50 CFR 17.40(e)) that currently allows ivory to be traded in ways that are otherwise prohibited by the ESA. This action will require publication of a proposed or interim final rule with an opportunity for public comment, followed by a final rule. We anticipate publishing a proposed or interim final rule by the end of April.

      • Reinforce International Controls on Wildlife Trade Domestically: We will finalize revisions to our U.S. CITES regulations (50 CFR Part 23), including the “use-after-import” provisions in 50 CFR 23.55, to clarify and improve public understanding of these provisions, and to reduce sales, including intrastate sales (i.e. sale within a state), of wildlife that was imported for noncommercial purposes. These revisions have already been published as a proposed rule with a public comment period. We anticipate publishing a final rule by the end of February. The revised regulations will be in effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

      • Support Limited Sport-hunting of African Elephants: We will limit the number of elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year.  We will publish a proposed or interim final rule with an opportunity for public comment, followed by a final rule, to revise the 1989 AECA moratorium and create regulations under the AECA in our general wildlife import/export regulations (50 CFR Part 14). We anticipate publishing a proposed or interim final rule by the end of June.

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Q:

What is the U.S. role in the illegal elephant ivory trade?

A:

The United States is among the world’s largest consumers of wildlife, both legal and illegal. As with any black market trade, it is difficult to determine the exact market value or rank the U.S. role in comparison to other nations. However, we remain a significant ivory market, and we must continue to be vigilant in combating illegal ivory trade. By effectively controlling illegal ivory trade at home and assisting elephant range states and consumer countries around the world, we can have a significant impact on elephant conservation.

Our current laws and regulations focus on controlling import and export, while allowing some ivory trade within the United States. Ivory sold in the United States typically involves worked items such as carvings and components of larger finished products such as knife handles, billiard cues, and furniture. Ivory is sold in retail shops as well as through online sellers. Though much of this trade is in antiques and other legally acquired ivory imported prior to the 1989 AECA ivory import moratorium, we believe a substantial amount of elephant ivory is illegally imported and enters the domestic market. As just one example, Service and State officers seized more than $2-million–dollars-worth of illegal elephant ivory from two New York City retail stores in 2012.

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Q:

How does prohibiting commercial use of antiques and other old ivory help elephant populations in Africa?

A:

Illegal ivory trade is driving a dramatic increase in African elephant poaching, threatening the very existence of this species. It is extremely difficult to differentiate legally acquired ivory, such as ivory imported in the 1970s, from ivory derived from elephant poaching. Our criminal investigations and anti-smuggling efforts have shown clearly that legal ivory trade can serve as a cover for illegal trade. By significantly restricting ivory trade in the United States, it will be more difficult to launder illegal ivory into the market and thus reduce the threat of poaching to imperiled elephant populations.

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Q:

What is the U.S. role in the illegal rhino horn trade?

A:

Approximately 2,800 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since 2008, a more than 7,000 percent increase compared to the previous 17 years. Most illegal rhino horn trade is destined for Vietnam and other Asian countries, where demand is driven by both traditional and non-traditional uses. However, the United States continues to play a role as both a consumer country and, increasingly, as a transit country for previously imported horns. The latter trend has been well documented in the Service’s Operation Crash, an ongoing nationwide crackdown on illicit rhino horn trade in the United States that has already led to 15 arrests, nine convictions and the seizure of significant numbers of rhino horns.

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Q:

Why is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking these actions?

A:

Last July, President Obama issued an Executive Order committing the United States to step up its efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. The Executive Order created an interagency taskforce, co-chaired by the Department of the Interior, and appointed a Federal Advisory Council to galvanize efforts to work across the government and the conservation community to strengthen and expand our response to the wildlife trafficking and poaching crisis. As stated in the President’s Executive Order, wildlife trafficking reduces the economic, social and environmental benefits of wildlife, while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability and undermining security. It is in the national interest of the United States to combat wildlife trafficking and ensure that we are not contributing to the growing global demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn.

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Impact of Administrative Actions on Commercial Trade in Elephant Ivory and Species Listed under ESA Comparison Tables

For additional information on this issue, please see http://www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/ivory-ban-questions-and-answers.html