Elephants are disappearing at a rapid rate. As ivory prices soar, estimates suggest that as many as 35,000 of these iconic animals fell victim to poaching in Africa last year and the numbers don't show any signs of slowing down. Fortunately, it's not all bad news for elephants. On Tuesday the Obama administration announced a new ban on ivory import, export and resale within the US in an effort to squash the burgeoning trade that poses such a huge threat to global elephant populations.

2014 02 12 Elephants Ivory Ornaments
Part of the aim of the new ivory regulations is to reduce demand for ivory products, which can be found in art and antique stores in most large U.S. cities

Although ivory imports have been banned in the US since 1989, the new ruling goes a little further. With the exception of antiques, the resale of elephant ivory across states lines is now banned, and sales within a state are more strictly regulated. Previously, an exception related to antique ivory products provided a loophole for illicit ivory trade, allowing goods to be smuggled under the guise of ancient artefacts or ornaments. However, the new ruling aims to put a stop to this, by placing the burden on the owners of ivory products to prove that their goods were legally obtained. Without the right documentation, ivory can be seized.

In addition to the stricter regulations, a cap has been placed on trophy hunts, limiting hunters to two elephants per year.

So how bad is the elephant poaching situation? In 2013, at least 45 tonnes of ivory were seized, estimated to be the biggest annual haul in a quarter of a century. Experts like Dr Paula Kahumbu believe that Kenya could see its wild elephant population wiped out in just ten years; while in other parts of Africa it could happen in as little as five.

The world seems to be waking up to the very real threats facing many species as a result of illegal trade. Wildlife crime has been thrust into the global spotlight this week as world leaders, heads of state, and delegates from about 50 countries gather in London for the ZSL-hosted International Wildlife Trafficking Symposium. The London conference, at which Prince Charles is due to speak, is aimed at reducing demand for illegal wildlife products, strengthening law enforcement, and supporting the development of sustainable livelihoods for communities involved in the trade.

Source: Reuters

Image: USFWS Mountain Prairie