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The Obama administration is hoping that with added restrictions making it difficult for ivory to reach US markets, international demand will drop and poaching in Africa will no longer seem as lucrative.
“This ban is the best way to help ensure that US markets do not contribute to the further decline of African elephants in the wild,” the White House said in a statement.
Wildlife experts say that the number of elephants in Africa has fallen to just 500,000 from at least five million in the 1930s.
Importing of ivory and animal products was banned by US authorities in 1989, the same year that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) outlawed the trade globally.
But a black market has persisted, largely due to massive trafficking to Asia and the Middle East, which are among the largest markets.
The US announcement comes two days before the London Conference On The Illegal Wildlife Trade 2014, which convenes on February 13 and draws leaders and delegates from 50 countries.
The US decision to ban trade domestically falls in line with the aims of the conference organisers who are hoping to curb the criminal practice particularly by “reducing demand for illegal wildlife products”.
The Conference is also hoping to see progress in “strengthening law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” and “supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities affected by illegal wildlife trade”.
China will for the first time be a participant in the London Conference – a welcome, and crucial step forward in ending the illegal animal products trade, conservationists say.
Since 2012, considered one of the worst years for the enforcement of the international ban on ivory and rhino horns, there has been some momentum toward destroying seized animal products.
In November, the US crushed into fine dust its entire stockpile of 6 tonnes.
Conservationists are hoping that poachers will realise they are running out of viable markets for the illicit trade.
On January 6, Chinese authorities destroyed (by burning) 6 tonnes of ivory in the city of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province.
This was quickly followed by an announcement from Honk Kong – which often serves as a transit point for illegal ivory shipments to China – that it would destroy nearly 30 tonnes of seized ivory.
Last week, French authorities destroyed more than three tonnes of ivory seized during a 20-year period, marking the first time that a European country has resorted to such measures.