This week, Hawaii – the nation’s third largest market for ivory – joined the war against global ivory trafficking when its senate unanimously passed legislation to ban all sales of elephant ivory, rhino horns, and other endangered species products.
With laws against ivory trafficking enacted in New Jersey and New York in 2014, and in California and Washington in 2015, we’re excited to add an important state to the win column, assuming that Governor David Ige signs the bill into law.
The HSUS, Humane Society International, and a coalition of national and local partner groups have since 2013 focused on putting a stop to the ivory trade in Hawaii because of the state’s robust market for illegal ivory and a booming wildlife products trade. Earlier this year, The HSUS released an undercover investigation that showed dealers openly selling ivory jewelry, tusks, and trinkets there. A 2008 study by Care for the Wild International and Save the Elephants estimated that an astonishing 89 percent of ivory sold in Hawaii was illegal or of unknown origin.
Hawaii’s big win should have a positive ripple effect on the west coast, and particularly in the state of Oregon where The HSUS is building up grassroots support for a ballot initiative to curb wildlife trafficking. Washington voters last November approved a ban on the sales of elephant ivory and other endangered species products by a 70 to 30 percent margin, with the measure passing in every county in the state.
Unfortunately, a few lawmakers aligned with the NRA, and giving too much credence to self-interested ivory collectors and antique dealers, are working to stall similar bills in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.
Numerous polls in various states demonstrate that over 80 percent of the general public support a ban on ivory sales, but a handful of elected officials continue to defy their constituents in order to protect the financial interests of individuals and organizations that seem to care nothing about the slaughter of elephants and the destruction of Africa’s greatest natural resource – its diverse, distinct, and magnificent wildlife.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 10 million elephants in Africa. That number dropped to 1.3 million in 1970. Only 600,000 elephants remained when an international trade ban on ivory was put into place in 1990. And perhaps only 350,000 survive today.
Last week, Kenya fired a salvo against ivory traffickers when it set ablaze 105 tons of ivory stockpiles and called on the rest of the world to close their domestic ivory markets. “No one has business in trade in ivory, for this trade means the death of our elephants and the death of our natural heritage,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
President Obama, standing next to President Kenyatta last year on his visit to Kenya, announced a landmark proposed rule to halt commercial trade in ivory in the United States. The Obama Administration has since pressed ahead with its proposal to restrict interstate commerce of ivory and a federally proposed rule is awaiting final action from its own Office of Management and Budget.
Only through the application and robust enforcement of the laws – in African nations and in major consuming countries – can we save the elephants. And by doing so, we save a cherished traveler on planet Earth and allow African economies to flourish and grow from commerce in wildlife watching.