Coalition seeks U.S. endangered species protection for elephants

The Wisconsin Gazette

A coalition of wildlife groups has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the African elephant was originally listed as threatened in 1978, the species’ population has declined by about 60 percent, primarily due to poaching for the ivory trade. Habitat destruction and unsustainable trophy hunting also contributed to the decline. Scientists say elephant mortality is outpacing the natural birth rate, fixing the species in a pattern of ongoing decline.

The coalition includes the International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and The Fund for Animals.

“African elephants are in very real danger of disappearing from the wild,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for IFAW. “U.S. policy for elephants needs an update to reflect the current crisis and declining status of the species. As one of the world’s largest ivory markets and home to many elephant trophy hunters, the U.S. can end our contribution to the slaughter with an endangered listing.”

He added, “It is the best tool in our domestic policy toolkit to stop our role in elephant deaths and bring global awareness to the crisis.”

The coalition, in a news statement, said the current regulations for African elephants under the threatened listing fail to adequately protect the species from unsustainable trade. An endangered listing would institute restrictions on both domestic and international trade in African elephant parts — including ivory, hunting trophies, skins and other products — and would expand public oversight of such activities.

It is generally prohibited to engage in the import of or interstate commerce in endangered species and their parts, except in limited circumstances that clearly benefit the species, such as for scientific purposes. An analysis in the petition shows that between 2003 and 2012, parts from about 50,000 elephants crossed borders worldwide in legal trade, including over 40,280 whose ivory and tusks were legally traded, and over 10,240 elephants whose parts were imported as trophies into the United States.

The uplisting petition comes at a significant milestone. One year ago, the White House announced a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, which called for new rules to restrict the domestic ivory trade.  The Petitioners will continue to support the Fish & Wildlife Service’s efforts to implement the National Strategy.

“Now is not the time to give up on these iconic, majestic creatures,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International. “The United States has a chance to shutter one of the world’s largest elephant ivory, skin and trophy markets. The positive potential impact of an endangered listing cannot be overstated.”