Governor Cuomo Shuts Down the Country's Biggest Ivory Market


Elly Pepper

Governor Andrew Cuomo celebrated World Elephant Day today by signing into law a bill (A10143/S7890) that will help stop the slaughter of African elephants for their tusks by drying up the nation’s largest market for ivory: New York City.

And since the U.S. ivory market is second only to China worldwide, this action in the Empire State will make a difference on the other side of the globe, where more than 30,000 endangered elephants were poached in Africa for their tusks in 2012.

You see, while the sale of new ivory has been banned nationwide for years, poachers have been able to continue sneaking it onto store shelves under the guise of “antiques.” Cracking down on this black market has proven extremely challenging as it’s very difficult to determine the age of ivory.  A 2008 ivory survey in New York City found 11,376 items being offered for sale by 124 outlets like gift shops and antique markets, over 10% of which came from China and were likely illegal.

The bill, which passed in June and was introduced by Assemblyman Sweeney and Senator Lanza, seeks to put an end to that once and for all by prohibiting transactions of ivory, mammoth, and rhino horn, save for a few narrow exceptions (i.e., certain musical instruments, educational and scientific purposes such as museums, 100-year-old antiques that are less than 20% ivory with documented proof of provenance, and transfers to legal beneficiaries of trusts/estates).

The bills also increase fines and jail time for those who violate New York’s wildlife trafficking laws. Until now, the punishment has been basically a slap on the wrist. But these bills will impose a fine of $3,000 or 2x the value of the article for the first offense, $6,000 or 3x the value of the article for the second offense, and a Class D felony for articles exceeding $25,000 which means 5-10 years in prison plus a significant fine.  

The new law is known as “Fitzpatrick’s Law” in honor of Lt. John Fitzpatrick, who passed away this May and who we will also now remember every World Elephant Day. A long-time Environmental Conservation Officer for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Lt. Fitzpatrick spearheaded investigations of illegal ivory sales, helped to institute new ivory permit procedures, and truly wanted to see this bill become law. Today, his hard work comes to fruition.

With two governors signing laws to ban ivory sales in two weeks, the United States is headed in the right direction when it comes to stopping elephant poaching in Africa.  Let’s celebrate World Elephant Day with the goal that we ban the ivory trade in other top markets like California and Hawaii and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues strong rules to stop the ivory trade at the federal level by this day next year.

Happy World Elephant Day!

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