Elephants have been hunted for both sport and their tusks for hundreds of years. Although ivory in tusks can be found in a variety of animals, elephant ivory is the most prized. Because of the large demand for elephant ivory, the population numbers of African and Asian elephants have declined, especially in the 1970s. The United States and other international governments have passed legislation to protect elephants from being hunted for their ivory by making the purchase and sale of elephant tusks illegal.
Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is piece of U.S. legislation that was passed in 1973 for the purpose of protecting wildlife that was close to extinction. This law prohibits the import and interstate commerce of all products that are manufactured from species on the endangered species list. ESA makes it illegal to import, trade or sell elephant ivory in the United States. Both Asian and African elephants are on the endangered species list as of 2010 and have been since the 1970s.
African Elephant Conservation Act
This law passed in 1988 authorizes the U.S. government to take action against any illegal African ivory importation. The law also grants funding toward African elephant research projects. In 1989, the law completely banned the importation and sale of African ivory, except for ivory that had been purchased prior to the passage of the law.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Also known as CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is an international body that regulates the commercial and noncommercial movement of endangered animals. The group, which was formed in the 1960s, consists of countries that pledge to protect the endangered species. CITES keeps a list of all endangered species across the world. African and Asian elephants are among the endangered species listed in the CITES appendices. The purchase or sale of ivory is illegal in all member countries.
In 1990, an official international ban on ivory was established by the United States and many European countries. Because of this ban, the ivory market significantly declined. However, unregulated domestic ivory markets in Africa and Asia still exist and pose one of the biggest challenges in elephant conservation.