U.S. To Ban Commercial Trade Of Elephant Ivory

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The U.S. government has announced new restrictions in the trade of African elephant ivory. Imports and exports are banned and sales are limited to antiques at least 100 years old. It's part of a broader effort to protect elephants and other animals from escalating illegal wildlife trade.


We heard elsewhere in our program that conservation experts are meeting in London this week to try to crack down on the trade in illegal wildlife. Here in Washington, the White House announced yesterday new restrictions on the import and sale of African elephant ivory.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Elephant ivory goes for $1,500 a pound. Rhino horn is worth its weight in gold - $45,000 a pound. Dan Ashe heads the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

DAN ASHE: What we're seeing now is growth of syndicated organized criminal traffickers. The same people who are dealing in drugs and weapons and in some cases human trafficking.

SHOGREN: Ashe says it's having devastating impacts on some of the world's most magnificent and treasured creatures. An estimated 35,000 African elephants were killed in 2012.

ASHE: Unless we do something, we're looking at the very real possibility of extinction. Rhinos are in even worse shape.

SHOGREN: Ashe says the crisis these animals face is why the United States is banning all commercial imports of African elephant ivory - even antiques. Selling ivory -except for certified antiques, across state lines - also will be prohibited.

Antiques must be at least 100 years old. And sellers must be able to prove this. And hunters will be limited to bringing back two tusks or elephant heads as trophies from their safaris.

Wildlife advocates praised the announcement. Cristian Samper is president of the Wildlife Conservation Society. He predicts it will substantially reduce the U.S. market for ivory. Samper says that's good for elephants.

CRISTIAN SAMPER: Because every time you buy a piece of ivory, that piece of ivory came from an elephant that was killed.

SHOGREN: The U.S. ivory ban comes on the eve of international meetings in London on wildlife trafficking. Samper believes the U.S. commitment will encourage other countries to make similar pledges later this week.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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