REP. ANTHONY BEILENSON (D-Calif) recently introduced legislation that would ban ivory imports into the United States. The purpose of the bill is to help guard against the further decimation of elephant herds in Africa, an outbreak of elephanticide that has been raging for a number of years. According to research from such groups as the New York Zoological Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the Fund for Animals and a large number of news reports, the war against the earth's largest land animal is fierce and massive. In 1973, Newsweek reported that "in the frenzied rush for ivory, the stakes are so high that laws [in African nations] have become meaningless." Last October, a UPI report from Johannesburg quoted Iain Douglas-Hamilton an international authority on elephants, to the effect that between 100,000 and 400,000 elephants had been killed in Africa in 1976. The Los Angeles Times reportd earlier this year that in Kenya "as many as 15,000 of the country's estimated 120,000 elephants are being killed illegally for their ivory every year."
In face of all this violence, Rep. Beilenson's legislation is assuredly not going to bring an instant halt to the rampant poaching now occurring outside the national parks in Africa. But the bill does hold promise of at least removing the United States as a potential market for ivory products, and thereby beginning a process that could slow down and perhaps greatly decreased the killing. Mr. Beilenson cites figures from the U.S. Census Bureau on the growth of the ivory trade. In 1972, the United States imported 21,000 pounds of crude ivory tusks; in 1976, the figure was up to 77,000 pounds. For such items as ivory jewelry, earnings and trinkets, the total grew from $1.5 million in 1973 to $3.2 million in 1976.
Imports of Ivory from Asian elephants are already banned under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. To date, the Interior Department, despite a recent petition from a coalition of wildlife and conservation groups, has taken no action on the African elephant. In the absence of Interior Department initiative, the legislation of Rep. Beilenson would close off one of the larger ivory markets. With the United States out of the picture. African governments might be better able to enforce their laws against the killing, because the well-organized poaching rings would have less reason to continue in a business that is not without some risk. Obviously, the elephants are threatened by other forces besides ivory hunters - such as the encroachment of man on their natural habitat. But with the incentive provided by the U.S. market suddenly removed, the greed of the ivory hunters mightbe considerably lessened.