WASHINGTON - The White House announced a new ban on sales of elephant ivory within the United States on Tuesday, part of a plan aimed at cracking down on trafficking of wildlife that is threatening some species, including the African elephant, with extinction.
The United States has banned imports of ivory since 1989. But the new efforts go further, banning the sale within the United States of most ivory products altogether and limiting sport-hunted trophies to two per hunter per year.
Part of the aim is to reduce demand for ivory products, which can be found in art and antique stores in most large U.S. cities, senior administration officials said on a conference call with reporters.
"The appropriate place to observe the majesty of this artwork is on a living elephant and a living rhinoceros in their native habitat," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The new push was prompted by soaring prices for ivory products which has spurred increased trafficking, some of which supports criminal groups, officials said.
Elephant ivory now sells for $1,500 per pound. Africa is losing an estimated 35,000 elephants a year to poaching, with total numbers down to less than 500,000.
"We can't ask other consumer nations to crack down on their domestic trade and markets unless we're prepared to do the same here at home," the official added.
There are still some exceptions under the new rules, such as if sellers can prove that items are more than 100 years old. Within a state, items imported before 1990 can also be traded, if sellers have the proper paperwork.
Congress has given the administration an extra $3 million for enforcing wildlife trafficking laws in 2014, officials said.