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Biden administration tightens rules on African elephant imports, stops short of ban

The Biden administration released updated rules Friday for importation of live African elephants and trophies derived from them.

The final rule, set to take effect May 1, tightens the rules around imports but does not outright ban the trade. It restricts imports to only those countries that can certify that their elephant populations are sustainable and not in decline.

Another provision, which takes effect in 2026, would require exporting countries to have conservation laws on the books for their elephant populations.

“The Service values collaborative conservation of wildlife all around the world and is committed to improving implementation of international conservation law” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said in a statement. “Our actions today will help support range countries’ efforts to manage and conserve African elephant populations and will further protect African elephants that are imported to the United States. We are optimistic that with this final rule and by continuing to work in partnership with range countries, wild African elephant populations will be sustainable into the future.”

Conservationists and wildlife advocacy groups expressed their chagrin that the rule stops shy of an outright ban on trophy imports, though.

“I’m truly crushed this rule doesn’t ban trade in elephant hunting trophies to the United States, and it doesn’t even require stable elephant populations to allow trophy imports,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “These magnificent animals are globally cherished but under threat, and it’s high time we stop letting wealthy trophy hunters turn them into décor.”

The rule comes the day after another Biden administration update, a partial rollback of a Trump-era loosening of an Endangered Species Act rule, also received mixed reviews from advocacy groups for its failure to fully undo the provisions of the Trump rule.

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