Measuring the U.S. Role in Africa’s Elephants in Crisis
Advocacy The current poaching crisis is wiping out elephant populations across the continent. What’s next for these great, vanishing creatures?
When a high-ranking Chinese wildlife official pledged that China—the world's largest market for ivory—was working on a plan to ban its trade and sale, he included that the U.S. should do the same.
President Obama took a significant step in that direction over the summer, announcing new regulations restricting the trade of ivory over state lines and expanding limits on ivory exports.
Stake in the game
The restrictions cannot come soon enough. The ivory demand in China and the United States is fueling the poaching deaths of an average of about 100 African elephants every day, putting the species on the fast track to extinction.
"Forest elephants, which now number fewer than 100,000, have declined by more than 60 percent in recent years."
The devil, of course, is in the details. Chinese officials have subsequently said they're still working out the specifics of a ban that could start as early as 2017. And though the new U.S. rules are designed to shrink domestic markets, the proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulation continues to allow some interstate sales, including pre-existing products that contain 200 grams or less of ivory.
There’s more that can be done. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been petitioned to reclassify African elephants as "endangered" from their current "threatened" status, based on a growing body of genetic research showing that African elephants are actually two separate species—forest and savannah elephants.
The science is solid: Genetic studies indicate the two split into separate species at least 2 million years ago, about the same time Asian elephants diverged from mammoths. And the need is pressing; only about 400,000 savannah elephants remain. Forest elephants, which now number fewer than 100,000, have declined by more than 60 percent in recent years.
An endangered listing for both species would provide the specific protections each needs to survive and put stricter restrictions in place on the import and export of ivory products—including many of the older ivory products that continue to provide cover for a much larger black market trade of ivory.
By showing China we're willing to take the first big step in stopping the brutal poaching that now threatens to wipe out African elephants forever, American action has the very real potential to spur a virtual gutting of the ivory trade in the planet's two largest economies, which also happen to be its two largest ivory consumers.