GRN Reports

High-profile supporters of elephants are urging the US to follow through with its proposal to curb the slaughter of elephants by shutting down the ivory trade in America.

Elephants from Save the Elephants

(Photo: Save the Elephants)

Jane Goodall, Leonardo DiCaprio and Dave Matthews are among the conservation and business leaders who signed a letter published today that backs the Obama Administration’s plans to stop the illegal ivory trade by forbidding the sale, import or export of ivory items.

The wildlife advocates say the ivory ban is urgently needed to save the African elephant, 25,000 to 50,000 of which are killed every year for their ivory tusks. Fewer than 500,000 of the animals remain on a range that once sustained millions of elephants. Conservation groups fear the African elephant could face extinction within a generation.

The new rules have encountered some resistance from gun, music and antique dealers , who worry they’ll no longer be able to sell or buy antique ivory items, such as furniture or guns with inlaid ivory or antique pianos with ivory keys. The sale of many existing ivory items has been allowed, even as the US previously restricted ivory sales.

The dealers say the new stricter rules would unfairly restrict their businesses involving ivory obtained before it was regulated. Antique dealers, for instance, will now have to prove that their ivory encrusted piece is at least 100 years old.

But advocates say the US must get tough to show the world that saving elephants is more important.

“We can live without ivory; elephants can’t,” said Dr. Patrick Bergin, CEO – African Wildlife Foundation.

“If we want all countries to make a commitment to living elephants by getting tough on the ivory trade, then the United States, as one of the largest ivory markets in the world, must lead by example,” Bergin said. “We commend the Administration for setting the tone on this issue—that the U.S. values living elephants above the profit from dead ones.”

In July 2013, Obama issued an executive order to try to stop illegal trade in wildlife artifacts in the US, including the black market ivory that fuels elephant poaching. The administration also ordered tons of ivory that had been seized over the years to be destroyed to underline the seriousness of its intentions. The US is the second largest market for ivory, after China. In both markets, new ivory continues to be carved into art and jewelry. China also is taking steps to shutdown the market for ivory.

Surveys show that only about one-third of the customers know that elephants are killed to provide their ivory bling.

The letter from advocates, published in the Washington Post, urges the administration to follow through with its ivory ban, part of the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking issued in February.

“The mass poaching of elephants in Africa should be of great global concern. I applaud the US ban on ivory in its intent to counter the devastating toll on dwindling elephant populations in the wild and address the physical and emotional suffering of these intelligent and highly social animals,” said Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Peace Messenger. “It is my hope that this strong move by President Obama will encourage other countries to do whatever it takes to end the demand for ivory products – from wild elephants – within their own borders.”

The world must begin to see that ivory art and gadgets are not worth taking the lives of these animals, explained Iain Douglas-Hamilton, DPhil, OBE, and Founder of Save the Elephants.

“At the heart of the elephant poaching crisis is the seemingly insatiable demand for their tusks. Closing the door to the illegal ivory trade in the U.S. is an important step towards saving elephants, and signals to the world that the continued existence of elephants must be valued above mere ivory trinkets,” he said.

Azzedine Downes, President and CEO, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) issued a similar plea: “The Administration appreciates the difference between a carved statue and a living, breathing elephant, and the proposed US ivory rules would help ensure that this planet doesn’t lose its most iconic animal for the sake of souvenirs. If implemented, these new rules would significantly reduce the amount of illegal ivory smuggled into and sold in this country, and would set an example for the rest of the world.”

(Photo above: Save the Elephants)