One Of America’s Largest Ivory Markets May Finally Ban Sales

African elephants (Loxodonta africana)

Thousands of African elephants are killed each year, often for nothing more than their tusks.

Legislation in Hawaii could help save elephants and other at-risk species.

• The legislation would prohibit the sale, purchase and trade of animal parts from elephants, rhinos, tigers and whales.
• This is Hawaii’s third attempt at a ban, and if successful would follow California and New York.
• An estimated 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers.

Amid warnings that Hawaii’s ivory market is poised to become the nation’s largest, state lawmakers have pushed forward a pair of bills aimed at banning the sale of “white gold” and other wild animal parts.

After two failed attempts in as many years, supporters of the proposed ban are optimistic this could be the year Hawaii finally steps up to help save African elephants, rhinos and other threatened species.

Inga Gibson, Hawaii senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told The Huffington Post that with increased educational campaigns and other states taking similar action, Hawaii has seen a “new level of awareness.”

“I think people are appalled that these items are being sold here and that we’re such a large market,” she said.

Eric Risberg/Associated Press
Older ivory can be sold legally under federal law, but advocacy groups says a lot of recently poached ivory is also for sale.

Senate Bill 2467 and House Bill 2502, although slightly different, would both prohibit the sale, purchase and trade of animal parts from a variety of species, including elephants, rhinos, tigers and whales.

Exempt from the proposed laws would be the sale of antiques at least 100 years old, products used for educational and scientific purposes, items used in traditional cultural practices, guns and knives with less than 20 percent ivory, and musical instruments manufactured before 1976 that contain less than 20 percent ivory or other animal parts. The bills would also not impact a person’s ability to possess ivory or other animal products.

Animal advocacy groups say the ban would help discourage poaching that is driven by the global demand for elephant tusks and other materials.

“The legislature finds that the most effective way to discourage illegal trafficking in animal species threatened with extinction is to eliminate markets and profits,” reads HB2502. “As other countries and states adopt laws to protect endangered species, Hawaii needs to ensure that it is not an attractive market for illegal wildlife trafficking.”

So just how rampant is Hawaii’s ivory trade?

A six-day investigation of the state’s online market found that 47 sellers based in the Aloha State were advertising more than 4,600 ivory products, valued at more than $1.2 million. The “overwhelming majority” of those items were described as elephant ivory, according to the report released last week. It was published by the Humane Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“With New York and California passing ivory bans in the last two years, Hawaii now constitutes the largest remaining ivory market in the United States,” the report concludes.

While Gibson and other supporters of the latest legislation are “cautiously optimistic” about its passage, she said there is still plenty of opposition. Gibson contends that “virtually all” opposition is from “those who profit in some way off of ivory sales.”

In written testimony, Brenda Reichel, a Honolulu-based gemologist, jeweler and appraiser, said she resents the implication that “anyone who has any type of ivory is in some way automatically a criminal.”

“You are doing more harm than good by making any and all ivory illegal to … barter, trade, or sell,” Reichel wrote. “The proposed bills will do nothing to save one elephant or rhinoceros.”

So far, SB2647 has cleared the state Senate and awaits its first hearing in the House, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. HB2502 awaits a House floor vote and could move to the Senate this week.

While states can enact their own restrictions, federal law allows elephant ivory imported prior to trade bans in the 1970s and 1980s to be sold legally. But a lot of ivory in the marketplace is not of the older kind. A 2008 study estimated that 89 percent of the ivory sold in Hawaii was illegal or of unknown origin.

According to Jeff Flocken, the North America regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, retailers often lack documentation showing that their ivory was imported legally. In practice, he said, recently poached ivory is being sold side by side with truly antique ivory.

“It’s far too easy for legal and illegal ivory to coexist in the marketplace,” Flocken said. “If elephants are to have a chance of survival, the ivory trade needs to go extinct.”

An undercover video released last week by the Humane Society (see below) appears to show Hawaii jewelers giving tips to customers on how to transport ivory without the required permits.

Meanwhile, some 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers, often for nothing more than their tusks.

In July of last year, President Barack Obama announced a proposed U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulation that would ban the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines, as well as further restrict commercial exports. He tied the looming natural disaster in with national security concerns.

“We currently face the risk of losing wild elephants during my lifetime,” Obama said last week in an interview with the Humane Society on World Wildlife Day. “It’s an unbelievable statement. It’d be an unpardonable loss for humanity and the natural world. There’s no question: We need to take urgent action to save one of the planet’s most majestic species and address the security threat posed by insurgency groups and dangerous criminal networks whose trade in ivory and other resources funds their activities.”