The U.S. government has announced a near-total ban on domestic sales of elephant ivory, a move intended to protect the endangered animal.
Previously, ivory could be sold if it was brought to the U.S. before elephants were listed as endangered, or if there were documents proving the elephant had died of natural causes.
The new rules restrict sales to genuine antiques, such as ivory statues or artwork, and items like musical instruments made with less than 200 grams of ivory.
“Today’s bold action underscores the United States’ leadership and commitment to ending the scourge or elephant poaching and the tragic impact it’s having on wild populations,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
The announcement comes just days before Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visit China, one of several Asian countries where demand for ivory remains high. That demand has motivated poachers who kill African elephants for their tusks.
Dan Ashe, director at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, said officials can now say President Barack Obama fulfilled his promise to nearly end domestic ivory sales and can ask Chinese leaders to do the same.
“We still have much to do to save this species, but today is a good day for the African elephant," Ashe said.
The African elephant population in the wild is approximately 470,000 — down from an estimated five million in the early 20th century.
“This U.S. ban should be the catalyst for China’s own ban, be the model for nations in Asia and Africa, and finally break down the world’s trade in ivory,” said Christian Samper of the Wildlife Conservation Society.