US authorities announced a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory Thursday, finalizing a years-long push to protect the endangered animals.
"Today's bold action underscores the United States' leadership and commitment to ending the scourge of elephant poaching and the tragic impact it's having on wild populations," Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said.
The new rule "substantially limits" imports, exports and sales of such ivory across state lines, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said.
However, it does make exceptions for some "pre-existing manufactured" items, such as musical instruments, furniture and firearms that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria, according to the FWS.
Antiques, as defined under the Endangered Species Act, are also exempt.
The new measures fulfill restrictions in an executive order on combating wildlife trafficking issued by President Barack Obama in 2013, the FWS said in its statement announcing the ban.
Thomas Mukoya /Reuters
It said that once illegal ivory enters the market it becomes virtually impossible to tell apart from legal ivory, adding that demand for elephant ivory, particularly in Asia, "is so great that it grossly outstrips the legal supply and creates a void in the marketplace that ivory traffickers are eager to fill."
"We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species," Jewell said.
The Wildlife Conservation Society welcomed the ban, calling it historic and groundbreaking.
"The USA is shutting down the bloody ivory market that is wiping out Africa's elephants," WCS president and chief executive Cristian Samper said in a statement.
"The USA is boldly saying to ivory poachers: You are officially out of business."
Some 450,000 elephants can be found on the African continent and it is estimated that more than 35,000 of these animals are killed each year.