With New Jersey, New York, and most recently California, having cracked down on sales of ivory, Hawaii now moves into the spotlight. This state, known for its distinct natural beauty, is also a hotbed for illegal ivory sales.
The good news is, The HSUS and a coalition of national and local partner groups are working on legislation that would protect elephants and other wildlife, including rhinos, sea turtles, lions, tigers, great apes, monk seals, whales, and pangolins. An opinion survey commissioned by The HSUS in January found that 85 percent of Hawaii residents support such legislation. But lawmakers in Hawaii are hearing caterwauling from antique dealers, jewelry collectors, and some other ivory traders who want them to reject the bill. These businesses seem to ignore the misery and death that poachers sow, and focus only on their narrow interests. Every 15 minutes, poachers kill an elephant for black-market ivory, sometimes even sawing off the animal’s tusks while he or she is alive. They kill to supply markets like Hawaii’s.
An HSUS investigator visited two dozen stores and locations across Hawaii, including a swap meet. As can be seen in the undercover footage, the investigator found ivory jewelry, figurines and tusks for sale. Dealers were not only openly selling ivory of dubious origin, but they were also seen giving tips to customers on how to skirt laws to smuggle it out of the country or across state lines without required permits. Sellers had no documentation, required under federal law, to demonstrate that the items offered for sale were legal, and some of the ivory looked like it had been newly obtained.
A 2008 study by Care for the Wild International and Save the Elephants identified Hawaii as the third largest market for ivory in the United States. The same study estimated that an astonishing 89 percent of ivory sold in Hawaii was illegal or of unknown origin. A report released last week by The HSUS, HSI and a coalition of conservation groups found a thriving online ivory market in Hawaii. An overwhelming majority of the products being sold lacked proof that they were imported legally.
Increasingly, the United States and other countries with a history of ivory trafficking, like China, are fighting ivory trafficking. Last year, President Obama announced a federal rule, expected to be made final soon, to crack down on the ivory trade in the United States. In a first-ever ballot measure on the topic, Washington state residents last year voted overwhelmingly to pass a ballot initiative to end the trade in wildlife parts. Several more states are now pursuing ballot initiatives and legislation that would do the same.
For Hawaii lawmakers, the choice couldn’t be any sharper: pass the bill and help end the cruel ivory trade that is quietly flourishing in the state, or stand aside and let a free-for-all in the marketplace continue to drive this mayhem and misery of global wildlife trafficking. Elephants and other animals should not pay the ultimate price so that a small number of people can sell these kinds of trinkets.
P.S. Right now, we are gathering signatures in Oregon for a ballot measure to stop trafficking in ivory and other wildlife parts. The Oregon measure, closely matching the measure that Washington voters approved last November, covers a dozen types of animals. If you want to get involved in this campaign, drop us a note.
*Just after this blog was posted, the Hawaii House voted to pass the wildlife trafficking bill with 51 votes for and one vote against.