China Promises an End to Its Ivory Trade, While Some U.S. Politicians Pander to Wildlife Traffickers
This weekend, The Washington Post’s Simon Denyer reports that the communist government of China will crack down on the trade in elephant ivory, and potentially close off the world’s biggest market for the product. Yet, here in the United States, a number of lawmakers in the states and in Congress are pandering to the irrational arguments of the NRA and blocking legislation to crack down on the trade.
Among the most craven legislators were Oregon House Democrat leaders, who blocked consideration of critical anti-ivory legislation by the full House even though a substantial majority of their Democrat colleagues favored the legislation. In fact, every Democrat in the Oregon Senate favored the legislation when it came up for a vote there and passed handily. When Chinese communist leaders are ready to stop the slaughter of elephants, and tell ivory carvers that their days are numbered, isn’t it extraordinary that some U.S. politicians won’t ask the same of U.S.-based merchants whose handiwork is contributing to the mass, inhumane slaughter of African elephants?
Last year, lawmakers in New York and New Jersey took action on this issue, and Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie signed bills to crack down on the trade. This year, legislation is on the move in California, after it passed the state assembly with a commanding, bipartisan vote of 62 to 14.
In several other states, however, including Illinois, Washington, and now Oregon, lawmakers pandered to the NRA and decided not to move bills to crack down on the ivory trade. They cited fears that the trade in elephant tusks from trophy hunting might be restricted, or the sale of guns with ivory on them could be stopped. Billionaire wildlife advocate Paul Allen has had enough of that claptrap, and has launched a ballot measure, Initiative 1401, to protect elephants, rhinos, and other species from the detrimental effects of an unfettered trade in their parts. The HSUS is backing that ballot measure, and urging all Washingtonians to get involved in qualifying it for the November 2015 ballot, and then passing it.
We may take a similar action in Oregon, now that feckless House leaders have blocked the measure.
But this begs the question, why are ballot measures needed on a subject where the moral and economic issues are so clear, and where more than eight in 10 Americans want action?
Remember, some of the people slaughtering elephants and trafficking illegal ivory are the same terrorists who murder people at malls and colleges in Kenya. They are working to destabilize and overthrow governments in a number of nations on the continent. They are the same people robbing so many African nations of megafauna that are the lifeblood of their tourism-based economies. Wildlife-related tourism, with elephants as the keystone species, represents billions in commerce – and in the process, feeds hungry people, finances education programs to lift kids out of poverty, enables health-care programs that save lives, and provides jobs for women in rural communities.
When we ask China to tell its small number of ivory dealers to switch to something else, is it asking too much that we ask the same of American ivory dealers, whose work is fueling the illegal killing of elephants just as much?
A poll conducted in Oregon showed close to 90 percent of the people in the state want a ban on selling ivory. When politicians cave in to the extreme voices who want to keep ivory-trafficking alive, they undermine the wishes of their constituents. Moreover, they doom elephants. Elephants are being gunned down every day – the estimate is 96 a day. Their faces are being sawed off. Their young are being orphaned. The only reasonable way to stop the killing is demand reduction – and it starts at home, not by telling other nations what to do while we make excuses.
There have been some important policy gains on this issue, and we also await action from the Obama Administration. But the blocking maneuvers by lawmakers aligned with wildlife trafficking proponents are unacceptable. When a nation like China is ready to take action, and we hand the mantle of leadership on to a nation not known for work in this area of moral concern, you know that it’s time for political change in the United States.