Court Upholds NRDC-Sponsored California Ivory Ban!

Ivory store window in San Francisco (C) Daniel Stiles (2015)

The Los Angeles Superior Court has upheld California’s ivory ban (Assembly Bill 96; now California Fish and Game Code Section 2022) against a lawsuit brought by the Ivory Education Institute, which claimed the law was unconstitutional.

NRDC, which helped pass the legislation in 2015, disagreed and intervened on behalf of the State of California to defend the law, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The California ivory ban is critically important to reducing demand for elephant ivory in the United States, given that California is one of our nation’s three largest ivory markets. Indeed,  according to a 2015 NRDC-commissioned undercover investigation of California’s ivory markets, up to 90% of the ivory for sale in Los Angeles and approximately 80% of the ivory for sale in San Francisco likely came from relatively recently killed elephants and could be linked to the poaching crisis now gripping Africa.

Fortunately, the new law, which became effective this July, will eliminate California’s flourishing illegal ivory trade by banning the sale, offer for sale, possession with intent to sell, and importation with intent to sell of elephant ivory, and increasing penalties to up to $50,000 or twice the value of the goods, whichever is greater, and/or one year in prison. The law includes reasonable exemptions for activities that are unlikely to contribute to the illegal ivory trade, such as transfers to legal heirs and beneficiaries, antiques containing less than 5% ivory or rhino horn, and musical instruments that were manufactured in 1975 or earlier and which contain less than 20% of ivory or rhino horn.

Paired with the ivory ban laws NRDC has helped pass in the other top three U.S. ivory markets – New York and Hawaii—and with the funding California’s Governor Brown recently dedicated towards enforcing this law, we’re confident it’s going to make a big difference in U.S. demand for elephant ivory and, ultimately, poaching of elephants in Africa.

About the Authors

Elly Pepper

Deputy Director, Wildlife Trade, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

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