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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Who Really Needs Ivory? The Elephant!

Poaching and wildlife trafficking are decimating wild populations of elephants in Africa and other species around the world, and in the last few years the losses have been staggering as the pace and deadly proficiency of poachers have accelerated – as many as 35,000 elephants killed in 2013. At its current rate, poaching could cost us a fifth of Africa’s elephants over the next decade.


"Classic" is one of the oldest and most dominant bulls in the western Kruger ecosystem, South Africa. Michelle Gadd/USFWS

We know the United States can’t save these species alone. Conservation of species depends on international community coming together to stop poaching, derail trafficking and cut demand.

The United States raised global awareness of this crisis when we crushed our seized ivory – an action since replicated by France and China ­– and we are continuing to lead by example.

President Obama just signed the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, which will result in a near-total ban on commercial trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn.

As our law enforcement efforts have shown, the current legal market for ivory can easily be used as cover for illegal trade and exploited by the poachers who so cruelly slaughter these animals and the traffickers who trade in their parts.

With administrative actions we will close loopholes and make for much stronger, more effective enforcement of wildlife trafficking laws. Some changes will begin to take effect over the next few weeks and months. Others will involve a public comment period and will take more time.

Once these actions are fully implemented, all commercial imports of African elephant ivory will be prohibited. The only commercial elephant ivory and rhino horn exports allowed will be a small category of legally documented antiques. Those legally documented antiques will also be the only ivory or rhino horn that can be sold across state lines. Sale within a state will also be restricted to antiques and items that the seller can prove were imported before more restrictive CITES Appendix-I listing.

If you have friends trying to buy something containing elephant ivory or rhino horn, tell them to watch out – what they are doing is likely going to be illegal.

Our work won’t be done today or tomorrow or even next year, but we are in this fight for the long term. We won’t rest until the only ones showing off new elephant ivory are elephants.

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