Conservation groups nationwide are banding together to shut down U.S. markets for the illegal trade of products and parts — mainly ivory — from endangered animals including elephants, whales and rhinos.
While such sales are already banned under federal law, illicit animal goods are easily sold and purchased in states that lack their own statutes outlawing that commerce. Once products or parts get past U.S. Customs, it’s appallingly easy to move them, thanks to sketchy dealers who ignore the law.
State assemblies have passed laws banning that commerce in New York and California, the nation’s top two markets for black market ivory. And conservation groups say the new statutes are already paying off.
But in the nation’s No. 3 market, Hawaii, business is seemingly booming.
African elephants like these are being driven to the edge of extinction by poachers who kill them solely for their tusks. Two bills before the Hawaii Legislature would ban the sale of those tusks or products made from them.
For anyone who might think this couldn’t be a very big issue in the Aloha State, think again. An online investigation conducted last December by some of the nation’s leading animal protection groups identified 47 ivory sellers in Hawaii offering 4,661 items with a total value of $1.22 million.
Between 2010 and 2012 alone, more than 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers for their tusks — about one every 15 minutes.
Undercover video produced by activists affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States appears to show a few Hawaii retailers offering ivory products without required federal paperwork proving its provenance and eligibility for sale and actually coaching possible buyers on how to sneak the products past customs.
Two Well-Tempered Solutions
Legislation being considered by both the state Senate and state House would ban endangered animal parts and products sales in Hawaii. Senate Bill 2647 has already cleared the Senate and awaits its first hearing in the House; House Bill 2502 awaits a floor vote and could be ready to move to the Senate by crossover later this week.
This idea has been before the Legislature for the past two sessions, which has given lawmakers, activists, retailers and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners the opportunity to fine tune the legislation.
As a result, SB 2647 and HB 2502 are both thoughtful bills, providing limited, appropriate exemptions and focusing on shutting down sales of products or parts from 18 species, including narwhals, monk seals, sea turtles, leopards and, most notably, elephants.
Mammoths, which have been extinct for thousands of years, are curiously included in the legislation. Animal rights advocates say thats because those animals are related so closely to modern-day elephants, it’s difficult to tell the difference between products made from mammoth tusks and elephant tusks, although it seems hard to imagine any mammoth parts still floating around the black market after more than 3,000 years.
This idea has been before the Legislature for the past two sessions, which has given lawmakers, activists, retailers and Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners the chance to fine tune the legislation.
Exemptions to the proposed laws include sales of antiques with documentation proving they are at least 100 years old, products or parts for educational, scientific or museum purposes, musical instrument parts that are composed of less than 20 percent animal parts and manufactured prior to 1976 and parts that are included in traditional cultural practices protected under the state constitution.
People convicted of violating the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of at least $200 and up to one year in prison; a second conviction within five years would result in a fine of at least $1,000 and up to a year in prison. Retailers would have ample opportunity to get in line: The House version of the legislation would be enacted at the end of the year, but enforcement wouldn’t begin until 2018.
Legislators also appropriately note within the legislation that later this year, Hawaii will host the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, giving our state the chance “to demonstrate Hawaii’s continuing leadership in global conservation challenges, international wildlife trafficking, and endangered species protection.”
In rallying support for the legislation, the conservation organizations spoke to the special role Hawaii now apparently plays in this destructive trade.
“Dozens of flights and ships enter Hawaiian ports and airports daily from across Asia and the Pacific, making the state a potential illegal ivory trade hub,” said Elly Pepper, wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Noting bans have already been approved in California and New York, Pepper added, “Hawaii should do its part to end the crisis and protect African elephants by shutting down the state’s ivory market.”
Lawmakers should take that sentiment to heart and complete the remaining work on these bills.
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