It’s truly developing as yet another landmark year for animal protection in California, with the state legislature this week giving final approval to separate bills banning the use of bullhooks and also banning any commercial trade in ivory. The ivory bill, AB 96, championed by Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego, passed the Senate on Tuesday 26 to 13, after the Assembly had approved it by an even bigger margin weeks before. The Senate bill, SB 716, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, bans the use of bullhooks on elephants, and it gained final approval Tuesday in a landslide vote (Sen. Lara is also the principal co-author of AB 96). Soon both bills will go to Governor Jerry Brown who has proved one of the most animal-friendly governors in the nation, having signed into law measures in recent years banning hunting bears with hounding, phasing out the use of lead ammunition in sport hunting, and stopping the sale of sharks.
The March announcement from Ringling Bros., with company officials indicating they would phase out the use of elephants in traveling acts, continues to reverberate, and there’s no better example than SB 716. Ringling has been the political protector of the status quo in the mistreatment of animals in the circus, and since the company’s announcement, California lawmakers have stepped in to level the playing field for all elephants. It was local ordinances in Los Angeles and Oakland that helped convince Ringling that elephant acts should not, and could not, be part of its future, so it is appropriate that the first statewide ban on bullhooks is in the state that pushed Ringling to act on its corporate policy.
Also, just weeks ago, the California Fish and Game Commission banned any commercial trapping of bobcats — a matter we thought we had taken care of in 1998 when we conducted a successful statewide ballot initiative to ban the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps for recreation or commerce in fur. But to our surprise, trappers started using box traps and lined up outside of protected areas to catch and then kill the bobcats for their pelts, which may sell for as much as $700 each in international markets.
This year also saw the implementation of Prop 2 and a closely related law banning extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens, and also requiring that any eggs sold in the state must come from hens kept in housing systems consistent with Prop 2 standards. Some in the egg industry appear to be skirting the law, but it does appear that space allotments for all birds in the state have at least doubled. We’ve been building on that announcement, and seeking a de facto form of enforcement by securing agreements from some of the nation’s biggest food sellers to get out of the business of selling cage eggs. Starbucks, Aramark, and Sodexo have all announced cage-free policies. In May, Walmart committed to implement the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare for its procurement policies, and one of those standards calls for the animal’s freedom to exhibit natural behaviors (which cannot be achieved in a cage).
As with cage confinement and lead ammo, California is leading on elephant protection — given that it will be the first state on the West Coast to crack down so significantly on the ivory trade and also end the use of bullhooks. A 2008 survey of 16 major cities found that California has the second most ivory items in retail markets after New York. The same report also found that the United States has the second largest retail ivory market behind China and that one-third of the ivory is estimated to be illegal. A 2014 investigation commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council uncovered a staggering percentage of likely illegal ivory openly available for sale – up to 80 percent of the ivory for sale in San Francisco and 90 percent of the ivory in Los Angeles.
And speaking of the commercial slaughter of wildlife, we are working hard to block a late-breaking maneuver by kangaroo-hunting interests to suspend a California law, signed when Ronald Reagan was governor, to ban the import of the marsupials’ pelts, mainly for use in athletic shoes. I blogged on it yesterday, and successfully defending the law will mark another major gain for us in the Golden State.
P.S. Soon, we hope to score a second big win on the ivory issue on the West Coast. The HSUS is backing a Washington state ballot measure this November, Initiative 1401, which would prohibit the sales of parts and products made from 10 highly trafficked animals, including elephant ivory. We hope the progress in California motivates Washington to compete and show that it, too, can show leadership on animal protection issues.