- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a “near-total ban” on the commercial trade of elephant ivory last year.
- Now, new research led by wildlife trade monitoring NGO TRAFFIC released last week provides a baseline for the state of the ivory market in the U.S. at the time the ban went into effect — which future monitoring efforts will rely on in order to determine the impacts of the legislative and regulatory changes made by the FWS a year ago.
- Researchers found that a total of 1,589 elephant ivory items, including figurines (780 items), jewelry (417), and household goods (261), were being sold by 227 different vendors in six major American cities from May to July 2016.
- They also also found that some 2,056 elephant ivory items were available on six major online auction sites and marketplaces between June and August 2016.
Last year, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a “near-total ban” on the commercial trade of elephant ivory after years of campaigning by environmental and conservation groups who said the closure of ivory markets in the United States and other major hubs in the international ivory trade were necessary to help halt the poaching crisis decimating elephant populations across Africa and Asia.
Now, new research led by wildlife trade monitoring NGO TRAFFIC released last week provides a baseline for the state of the ivory market in the U.S. at the time the ban went into effect — which future monitoring efforts will rely on in order to determine the impacts of the legislative and regulatory changes made by the FWS a year ago.
The final rule issued by the FWS — which revised the Endangered Species Act — was enacted on July 6, 2016, limiting the legal ivory trade to antiques more than 100 years old (as well as some pre-existing manufactured products that contain less than 200 grams of ivory). Prior to the new rule, sales of ivory were permitted if it was imported to the U.S. before 1978, the year the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) was first listed as endangered in the country, which critics said created a loophole that facilitated the laundering of ivory from newly killed elephants.
To establish a baseline for US elephant ivory markets, researchers with TRAFFIC, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) surveyed both physical markets and online classified ads in six major US cities from May to July 2016. They also looked at the ivory offered by sellers based in the US on six major e-commerce platforms from June to August 2016.
They found that a total of 1,589 elephant ivory items, including figurines (780 items), jewelry (417), and household goods (261), were being sold by 227 different vendors in Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; and Washington, DC, which was found to have 658 items for sale from 68 vendors, the most for any of the cities the researchers examined.
Pianos with ivory keys were the most common item for sale via online classified ads in those cities, with 205 listings.
New York and California are among the states that have adopted their own rules restricting intrastate commercial sales of elephant ivory. These state laws appear to have been effective, as the authors of the TRAFFIC study say they discovered a sharp decline in the number of elephant ivory items available in Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, the top three US ivory markets as of a decade ago. A 2006-2007 survey by Care for the Wild International and Save the Elephants found 16,758 ivory items in physical retail in those three cities, compared to just 489 items documented by the TRAFFIC researchers in 2016.
Just last week, hundreds of pieces of jewelry, sculptures, and vases made of elephant ivory — weighing nearly two tons in total and estimated to be worth $8 million — were crushed in New York City’s Central Park.
“Ivory is coming off the shelves in the US, which is a win for elephants,” Rachel Kramer, a senior program officer with TRAFFIC/WWF and the lead author of the report, said in a statement. “But as state and federal law enforcement crack down on illegal sellers, trade is apt to move online and into back rooms. Further investigations will be essential to learn who’s responsible for the trading, where the stocks are, and to deliver future seizures, arrests and prosecutions.”
Kramer and team also found that some 2,056 elephant ivory items were available on six major online auction sites and marketplaces between June and August 2016. These items were offered by sellers based in 47 different states, with California (93 online vendors, 173 items), Florida (74 online vendors, 573 items), and New York (62 online vendors, 117 items) topping the list.
There is growing momentum toward shuttering ivory markets around the world. Like the US, China is a major hub for the international ivory trade, but the country announced late last year that it would close its domestic ivory markets by the end of 2017. Similarly, Hong Kong said it would phase out its ivory trade by 2021.
While the poaching crisis decimating African elephant numbers that began in earnest in 2006 appears to have peaked some time around 2011 to 2013, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) reported last year that levels of illegal killings still appear to be too high to allow for the recovery of elephant populations.
Peter LaFontaine, campaigns manager for IFAW, said that elephants “need all the help they can get,” especially from the tech companies that have the power to halt sales of ivory online. “IFAW has been monitoring online sales of ivory since 2004, and we are glad to see more and more companies implementing policies to reduce illegal trade on the web,” LaFontaine said in a statement. “This survey shows that there’s still much work to be done, but the groundwork is in place for these efforts to bear fruit.”
- Kramer, R., Sawyer, R., Amato, S., & LaFontaine, P. (2017). The US Elephant Ivory Market: A New Baseline. TRAFFIC. https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1081/files/original/TRAFFIC_US_Ivory_Report_2017.pdf?1501007952
- Martin, E. & Stiles, D. (2008). Ivory markets in the USA. Care for the Wild International, Save the Elephants. http://savetheelephants.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2008IvoryMarketsUSA.pdf
Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.