Both New York and California – the two largest ivory markets in the country – enacted ivory bans in the past two years. And Thursday, Hawaii officially joined them when Governor Ige signed Senate Bill 2647 (now Act 125), which bans the vast majority of Hawaii’s ivory trade, as well as trade in other species threatened by wildlife trafficking. This means, the top 3 U.S. ivory markets have been banned!
There’s a lot of ivory in Hawaii. A 2008 survey of U.S. ivory markets found almost 2,000 ivory items on Oahu, nearly 90% of which were likely imported illegally or are of unknown origin. The state also has one of the largest – if not the largest – online ivory marketplaces in the country, with a recent study finding more than 4,600 items worth more than $1.2 million offer for sale over just six days! And then there’s this recent undercover video, which shows Hawaiian store owners telling buyers how to smuggle the ivory they’ve purchased out of the country … When I visited Hawaii for the first time just a few months ago, I was struck by the amount of ivory for sale in Oahu and Maui—there was even a store in our hotel selling ivory whose owners were recently indicted by the U.S. government for selling ivory and other illegal wildlife.
Fortunately, this will no longer be the case when SB 2647 -- now Act 125 -- goes into effect. The legislation bans the vast majority of commercial transactions in ivory and other wildlife, including sale, offer for sale, and purchase. The law contains reasonable exemptions for activities such as transfers to heirs and beneficiaries, educational and scientific purposes, traditional cultural practices, and antiques and musical instruments containing a small percentage of ivory. Further, the legislation will ban commerce in currently-legal mammoth ivory, which is critical since it’s often used as cover for illegal ivory, as enforcement officers can’t easily tell the difference between mammoth and elephant ivory.
State bans like the one Hawaii signed into law late last week are critically important to reducing U.S. demand for ivory, and, as a result, poaching in Africa. The federal government has limited authority when it comes to restricting the trade of wildlife within a state, so these state bans are essential. In addition, these bans send an important signal to China – the world's largest ivory consumer – that the United States is doing its part as China moves forwards with announced plans to eliminate its own domestic ivory market.
While I was only in Hawaii for a short time, it’s obvious that the state is one with rich cultural and economic ties to the natural world. So it’s no surprise to me that the state has become a leader in the fight to save elephants. I can’t wait to return to Hawaii this fall for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, which the United States will host for the very first time, at which we’ll celebrate and recognize Hawaii’s leadership in this area. I hope Hawaiians are proud of this win for elephants. I know I am.