Good News–US Domestic Ivory Ban Announced


Kathleen S. Gobush, PhD

Date Published

Although international trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) does not have jurisdiction over domestic trade. Only national legislation can limit trading of ivory within sovereign borders. African elephant range States such as Kenya and Gabon have instituted such legislation, but a vast number of CITES parties have yet to do so. CITES resolutions, the African Elephant Action Plan and many other strategies and reports have long recognized that unregulated domestic ivory markets greatly contribute to the illegal ivory trade chain and undermine elephant conservation efforts.

The new US ban prohibits the commercial import, export and resale within the United States of elephant ivory, with a very limited number of exceptions ( This administrative action revokes a previous Fish and Wildlife Service special rule that had relaxed Endangered Species Act restrictions on African elephant ivory trade. Once finalized the new rule will reaffirm and clarify that sales across state lines are prohibited, except for antiques. To qualify as an antique, an ivory 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. The new proposed rule 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.

The total annual volume of ivory sales in the US – whether of antique or pre-ban origin or from freshly poached elephants – is likely much less than that which occurs in some African and Asian countries. However, the federally-imposed ban on domestic trade in ivory covers all American states in one fell swoop, closes loopholes that were previously advantageous to criminal traffickers, and removes the onus from law enforcement to prove an ivory item was recently sourced and thus illegal.