Trading illegal ivory in the U.S. just got a whole lot trickier, thanks to a new federal rule from the Obama administration.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Thursday a new rule under the Endangered Species Act, instituting a near-total ban on the domestic commercial trade of African elephant ivory in an effort to protect the severely endangered animals.
The regulation restricts all ivory sales to lawfully imported antiques that are at least one century old, and to items like musical instruments and firearms that were made using less than 200 grams — or less than half a pound — of ivory. Under the previous version of the act, ivory could be traded if it had been brought into the U.S. before 1978, when African elephants were first listed as endangered, or if the elephant died of natural causes. Both cases required official documentation.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was nearly impossible to distinguish illegal ivory from legal ivory under previous conservation law, limiting the effectiveness of enforcement. The new rule, which was first proposed in 2015 and finalized Thursday, will provide federal agents with clearer guidelines in identifying illegal ivory.
The ban echoes intentions from China and several African nations, which have taken similar steps to battle illegal poaching and trade. Many conservation organizations, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), say that if all nations took similar action, it could dramatically reverse the decline of African elephant populations.