Saving Elephants

You decide if a new law will help stop elephant poaching

Around the world, elephants are endangered. In Africa, poachers hunt the massive mammals for their ivory tusks. Ivory can be carved into beautiful works of art, like the mask shown below.

African Mask Idia, the first Iyoba (Queen Mother of Benin), 16th c. Ivory. Photo: The Granger Collection, NYC-All rights reserved.

The United States government is trying to help stop the poaching. In 1989, the U.S. imposed a law making it illegal to trade new African elephant ivory. But it is hard to distinguish antique ivory from new ivory taken from recently killed elephants. Despite the 1989 law, poachers continued to kill elephants, secretly selling new ivory artworks as antiques on the black market. 

In an effort to stop black-market poaching, the U.S. government recently revised the 1989 law to include a ban on the sale of antique ivory as well as new ivory. Unless collectors can prove that their ivory artwork was made before 1914 or that they acquired it before 1974, they no longer have the legal right to sell it. With this ban in place, the government hopes to discourage poachers by making most ivory objects, both new and old, worthless. 

Most people want to save the elephants, but some are not happy about the new law. Antique-ivory collectors argue that the law won’t help save elephants, but will hurt their businesses. They also point out that the new law applies only to American collectors. The largest demand for ivory is from Asia, where the material is sacred in some religions. So while American collectors won’t be able to sell their antique ivory, poachers will still have plenty of demand in Asia for new ivory.

What do you think? To stop the sale of new ivory, is it right to ban the sale of antique ivory in the U.S.?

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