“The slaughter of the dwindling elephant herds in Africa grows worse by the year,” the New York Times opines, “as organized criminals get rich from selling elephant tusks in lucrative black markets around the world, where a pound of ivory can fetch $1,500. African elephants, whose numbers have been reduced in less than a century from several million to an estimated 500,000, are being killed at a rate of 30,000 to 35,000 a year.” I know! Let’s ban ivory! ‘Cause it’s not banned enough. “Last week, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will ban the trade in elephant ivory within the United States by prohibiting all imports and — with very narrow exemptions — exports and resales by auction houses and other dealers.” That sentence doesn’t quite capture the full extent of the regulatory change. Try this from the Interior Department’s own website . . .
The Service will:
- Prohibit Commercial Import of African Elephant Ivory: All commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, will be prohibited.
- Prohibit Commercial Export of Elephant Ivory: All commercial exports will be prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, certain noncommercial items, and in exceptional circumstances permitted under the Endangered Species Act.
- Significantly Restrict Domestic Resale of Elephant Ivory: We will finalize a proposed rule that will reaffirm and clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for bona fide antiques, and will prohibit sales within a state unless the seller can demonstrate an item was lawfully imported prior to 1990 for African elephants and 1975 for Asian elephants, or under an exemption document.
- Clarify the Definition of “Antique”: To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act. The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.
- Restore Endangered Species Act Protection for African Elephants: We will revoke a previous Fish and Wildlife Service special rule that had relaxed Endangered Species Act restrictions on African elephant ivory trade.
- Support Limited Sport-hunting of African Elephants: We will limit the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that an individual can import to two per hunter per year.
I’ve got issues with all this. First, will ANY of these changes help save African elephants from poachers’ guns? Current laws on imported or exported ivory are plenty damn strict and they’ve done sweet FA to stop the killing. I know, I know: if a rule saves one elephant . . . Yes, well, the point isn’t to save one elephant. It’s to save elephants in general.
Like all animals, elephants are a natural resource. Their survival depends on human stewardship. Legal hunting would be lucrative for all concerned. It would give corrupt government officials, professional hunters and locals a cash incentive to protect pachyderms. The more money elephants make for their stewards the more zealous those protectors will be.
Given this equation, the Service’s decision to limit legal sport-hunted elephant trophies to two-a-year per hunter seems both self-self-defeating and churlish. And am I the only one who thinks that banning ivory sales across state lines sets a dangerous precedent? It sounds crazy, but imagine getting pulled over by a Department of Fish and Wildlife Service agent and asked to produce a receipt for your ivory-handled revolver. They might accue you of transporting it across state lines for the purpose of sale. If so . . .
“The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria (that an antique elephant ivory item is over 100 years old).” While I love me some Ellies I love the “innocent until proven guilty” principle underlying our criminal justice system more. I’m not real comfortable with this bit either . . .
The National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking was developed by an interagency Presidential Task Force, representing agencies from across the federal government, and with significant input from an Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking that includes representation from the private sector, former government officials, non-governmental organizations and other experts on wildlife trade. The Task Force was formed following the President’s July 2013 Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking. The aim of the Executive Order and the Task Force is to enhance and coordinate U.S. efforts to address the significant impacts to wildlife caused by this growing threat.
Aside from Constitutional concerns about presidential power (with or without “significant input” from citizens), haven’t we learned anything from Prohibition I and II (a.k.a., The War on Drugs)? Banning things does nothing to stop them from being created, bought and sold – even if it makes us feel better. The best way to save the elephants is to shoot them. Legally.