AZA News Releases

Scientists Unite to Call for Tighter Ivory Controls on World Elephant Day

Letter to President Obama signed by 250 scientists from varied backgrounds, disciplines, and institutions    

Scientists emphasize that data show elephant populations in major trouble

Proposed ivory ban would close loopholes and cut demand for ivory products 

Washington, DC – On the eve of World Elephant Day Wednesday, August 12, a group of 250 scientists from varying disciplines and organizations around the world sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling for the closure of the commercial ivory trade in the United States. 

On July 25, President Obama announced the pending release of the long-awaited “4(d)” rule revision on African elephant ivory during his trip to Kenya. The letter from scientists commends the proposed rule as a way to help guarantee that the U.S. is not contributing to the global trafficking in elephant ivory. 

The 4(d) rule change would prohibit most sales of ivory in interstate or foreign commerce (with exemptions for bona fide antiques and certain manufactured items containing de minimis quantities of ivory) and leave in place other import/export and sales restrictions that the US Fish & Wildlife Service implemented last year. Importantly, prospective sellers would be required to demonstrate that their ivory items meet the criteria to be granted an exemption. Possession, bequests, or gifting of ivory items would not be regulated under the proposed rule.

The letter was conceived and circulated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Born Free USA, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Investigation Agency, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Wildlife Conservation Society, and other groups. 

“Members of the scientific community are particularly aware of the destructive effects the ivory trade is having on populations of African elephants,” said Dr. Susan Lieberman, Vice President of International Policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society and a signatory to the letter. “It is our hope that we can use our expertise to convince policy makers at home and abroad of the need for these regulations and to close all domestic ivory markets.”   

 “Members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums – both those with and without elephants – recognize the impact tighter ivory regulations can have helping to protect elephants in the wild,” said Debborah Luke, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Conservation and Science at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and a signatory on the letter. “AZA members from coast-to-coast are committed to raising awareness among their millions of visitors about the dangers confronting elephants. Many are part of the 96 Elephants campaign, whose goals include stopping the killing of elephants, and stopping the trafficking of and demand for ivory.”

“International ivory trafficking is a serious threat to the survival of the African elephant. We must do our part to stop the illegal trade in ivory here in the United States,” said Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark. “We urge the administration to finalize its critical regulatory changes to crack down on ivory trafficking as quickly as possible.”

“You don’t have to be a scientist to know that ivory comes from dead elephants,” said Teresa Telecky, Ph.D., director of the wildlife department at Humane Society International. “We’ve come together as scientists to ask the U.S. government to end this destructive trade once and for all.” 

Over the past 30 years, Africa’s elephant population has been reduced from around 1.2 million to about 420,000. These scientists are in agreement that the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory is a primary cause of these declines. A recent study found that 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010-2012 alone. Central Africa’s elephants are being poached at a shocking and unsustainable rate of 9 percent per year. This is based on a new analysis indicating that between 2002 and 2013, 65 percent of the region’s forest elephants – 200,000 individuals – were killed. One elephant is poached for ivory every fifteen minutes.

While the international commercial trade in African elephant ivory has been banned since 1990, individual countries, including the U.S., have maintained varying levels of legal domestic ivory trade. Studies of trade in elephant ivory indicate that legal markets provide a cover for trade in illegal products and render enforcement extremely difficult. This is the case in the U.S. ivory market – one of the largest in the world – where traffickers exploit regulatory loopholes in order to misrepresent illegal ivory as legal ivory. Given the scale of the current elephant poaching crisis across Africa, and the modus operandi of the trade, the scientists argued that U.S. must eliminate its parallel legal and illegal markets and the resulting opportunities for laundering illegal ivory.

Elephants are iconic, awe-inspiring animals and perform critical ecological roles in the forests and savannahs they inhabit. Yet, unless this poaching trend is reversed, African elephants will be wiped out across large areas of their range within our lifetime.


View Letter Here 


WCS: Chip Weiskotten; 202-347-0672 x8172;

AZA: Rob Vernon; 301-244-3352;

DoW: Haley McKey; 202-772-0247;

HSI: Naseem Amini; 301-548-7793;

IFAW: Abby Berman; 646-695-7044; 

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