Issue Background

Stop the Domestic Ivory Ban

A domestic ivory ban in the United States hurts innocent Americans without saving a single living elephant. Instead of illegally punishing people who own or work with legal ivory by stripping value of billions of dollars' worth of private possessions from millions of people, poaching should be fought the following ways:


Short Term


For immediate relief of poaching trends

  • Continue increased law enforcement efforts in Africa
  • Interdict illegal ivory supply chains at ports and vulnerable points
  • Impose sanctions consistent with CITES on China and other countries who violate current international ivory trade bans'

Long Term

  • Consult all stakeholders, including African nations and people who legally trade ivory, to encourage CITES to implement a long-term regulated supply system of legal raw ivory to those East Asian cuntries that guarantee to cease buying poached ivory
  • Adopt realistic policies that recognize the intrinsic value of ivory and provide economic incentives for local African communities to protect elephants against poaching
  • Eliminate demand for illicit ivory without destroying culturally significant treasures

President Obama's Executive Order created the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking to make recommendations to the US Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") on how to stop wildlife trafficking.


The original Executive Order did not mention a domestic ivory ban. The council was formed with people who had government experience or who represented large nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) already involved in conservation efforts. No one on the Council worked with ivory in the US or owned significant amounts of itClick here for more about the Council.


Because of the current ban on importing elephant ivory imposed in 1989, the US market for ivory is already isolated. Existing stocks of ivory brought into the US prior to 1990 are used in a wide variety of products, but because it cannot be exported, it trades within the country. Antiques (ivory older than 100 years) can be traded internationally, but antiques are tightly regulated when they cross international borders.


USFWS has been very successful in prosecuting ivory smugglers. In their November 2013 report, USFWS describes major investigations and prosecutions of ivory smugglersUSFWS concluded in September 2012 that they "do not believe that there is a significant illegal ivory trade into this country." The Service's activity and conclusions were consistent with a December 2013 CITES report that reflects illicit ivory trafficking into the United States is insignificant.


Nevertheless, the Advisory Council suggested a domestic ivory ban for the first time in a public meeting held on December 16, 2013. On February 11, 2014, President Obama announced the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking & Commercial Ban on Trade in Elephant Ivory. USFWS elaborated on how it intends to implement the National Strategy in a Questions & Answers page on the USFWS website,


According to the USFWS, if the proposed Ivory Ban is finalized, the following activities WILL BE PROHIBITED:


  • Commercial import of African elephant ivory
  • Export of non-antique African and Asian elephant ivory (except in exceptional circumstances as permitted under the ESA)
  • Interstate commerce (sale across state lines) of non-antique African and Asian elephant ivory (except in exceptional circumstances as permitted under the ESA)
  • Sale, including intrastate sale (sale within a state), of African and Asian elephant ivory unless the seller can demonstrate that the ivory was lawfully imported prior to listing in CITES Appendix I (1990 for African elephant; 1975 for Asian elephant) or under a CITES pre-Convention certificate or other exemption document.

Also, if finalized the following activities WILL BE LIMITED:


  • Imports of African elephant ivory will be limited to certain items and purposes where the ivory item will not be sold, including ivory for law enforcement and scientific purposes, specified worked ivory items such as musical instruments, items in museums and other exhibitions, and items that are part of a household move.
  • Import of African elephant sport-hunted trophies will be limited to two trophies per hunter per year.

USFWS began implementing the intensified African ivory ban on February 25, 2014 by issuing Director's Order No. 210 which


  • Strictly applies all criteria under the ESA antique exception which makes it practically impossible to import or export antique elephant ivory
  • Shifts the burden of proving an exemption to the importer, exporter or seller, so if necessary paperwork does not exist, the ivory is presumed to be illegal

These new rules apply to antiques, musical instruments, and other raw or worked ivory.


On March 20, 2014, the Advisory Council conducted a second public meeting in Washington, DC. There, they further elaborated on additional penalties for wildlife trafficking, which under new rules would include violations of the Domestic Ivory Ban. Proposed penalties include:

  • Prosecuting wildlife trafficking under RICO, Money Laundering and Travel Laws
  • Elevating sentences to felonies punishable by 5 year prison sentences
  • Creating a "Restitution Fund" that would enhance penalties and could be used for NGOs or other enforcement agencies when the country of origin of seized contraband (ivory) was not clear
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