A new rule announced this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could be a game-changer in the fight to save the African elephant. Mashable reports that the rule adds a "near-total ban" on the commercial trade of ivory taken from the endangered animals. The near-ban represents a major improvement over the United States' previous position, which allowed for the trade of ivory that was either brought to the U.S. prior to 1978, when African elephants were first listed as endangered, or sourced from an elephant that died of natural causes.

According to the release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the rule was proposed as a way to cripple and ultimately end the industry that has been gaming the system to pass illegal ivory off as a legal product. "Under current laws, once illegal ivory enters the market, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish from legal ivory, limiting the effectiveness of law enforcement efforts to intercept black market shipments and catch traffickers," the Wildlife Service writes.

The new rule is far more strict in what it does and does not allow. The Wildlife Service notes that there will now be "specific, limited exceptions for certain pre-existing manufactured items—such as musical instruments, furniture pieces and firearms—that contain less than 200 grams of ivory and meet other specific criteria." Most antiques will also be exempt.

"We listened carefully to the legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholder groups and, as a result, are allowing commonsense, narrow exceptions for musicians, musical instrument makers and dealers, gun owners and others to trade items that have minimal amounts of ivory and satisfy other conditions," Service Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. "These items are not drivers of elephant poaching and do not provide cover for traffickers."

The rule will be published in the Federal Register on June 6 and will go into effect 30 days later.

[h/t Mashable]