Previously, domestic ivory sales were considered legal if the elephant died of natural causes or the ivory was imported before 1978 - exceptions that were easily exploited because the distinction is invisible and somewhat meaningless. The new law limits elephant ivory sales to certain manufactured items like musical instruments and guns that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and antiques more than 100 years old. According to Ashe, these items don't drive poaching.
"Our actions close a major avenue to wildlife traffickers by removing the cover that legal ivory trade provides to the illegal trade," he said. "We still have much to do to save this species, but today is a good day for the African elephant."
The U.S. isn't the only country sending a strong message that elephants are worth more alive. Last month, Kenya burned an unprecedented 105 tons of elephant tusks and rhino horns, representing about 7,000 slaughtered animals.