The new law would not only put to rest concerns that Hawaii, the third largest market, would become the first, it buried them. Hawaii’s ban went beyond New York’s and California’s by banning the sales of artifacts from numerous other species — seals, sharks, lions, hippopotamus, jaguars, tigers, leopards, great apes, whales, walrus, monk seals and cheetahs.
Hawaii joined a global fight against wildlife trafficking that has grown from a cottage industry into a criminal colossus worth an estimated $20 billion per year, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service police and economists. It now ranks fourth on the world black market behind the illegal trades of drugs, weapons and humans for sex.
The revenue has attracted crime syndicates, rogue armies and terrorist groups that pay poor impoverished people in numerous African nations to track and kill elephants for their tusks and rhinoceros for their horns. The items are smuggled out of Africa and routinely end up in the world’s two largest markets for them, China and the United States.
“We’re thrilled,” said Elly Pepper, a wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that lobbied the Hawaii state legislature for three years. If and when Gov. David Yutaka Ige (D) signs the bill, “we will have banned these sales in the top three markets. That puts pressure on China, and closes holes that the federal government can’t regulate.”
The Obama administration banned nearly all ivory sales in the United States two years ago. The prohibition was part of the White House’s National Strategy on Wildlife Trafficking. For the first time, the administration forced vendors to prove beyond any doubt that ivory offered for sale complies with the Endangered Species Act. Previously the federal authorities had to prove an item was illegal, even when dealers lacked permits.
Hawaii stands apart from other states because its law would ban artifacts from a wide array of species. “It’s important because there are thousands of species being pushed to the brink by this trade,” Pepper said.
An investigation of Hawaii’s ivory market released this year by four conservation groups — the Natural Resources Defense Council, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society — showed that 1,800 advertisements for ivory jewelry and other animal products were found in just six days.
More than 4,600 items worth more than $1.2 million were found. “The overwhelming majority of the products were advertised as elephant ivory,” Pepper wrote in a blog post about the investigation, but most lacked the documentation needed to prove that the raw material and carvings were legally imported.
Last year, federal official crushed a ton of ivory seized from smugglers and illegal dealers in New York’s Times Square to call attention to the problem. Ivory is often smuggled through John F. Kennedy International Airport, a major gateway for legal and illegal animal products outside the city.
Three years ago, two tons of ivory was seized from jewelers in the city who received no jail time. That case helped pave the way for the New York state legislature to pass a ban with strong criminal penalties in 2014. A California law with similar measures went into effect last year.
“In just a three-year span” ending last year, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said at the ivory crush in Times Square, “an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory. That’s an average of 34,000 elephants per year killed in Africa. In other words, while we’re sitting here, while we are at this event, about six more elephants will die, maybe more, because they’re now going after the babies.”