11,300. That's how many ivory items the last survey, conducted in 2008, found in New York City, making it, by far, the largest ivory market of any major U.S. city.
How many elephants were slaughtered for those items? It's difficult to tell, but the simple answer is: too many.
Yesterday, New York lawmakers responded to this emergency when Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, Chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, introduced Assembly bill 8824, which will crack down on New York’s ivory trade. As you may recall, NRDC urged the Committee to take such action at a hearing in January.
(C) Fish and Wildlife Service
Most significantly, the bill bans the sale, offer for sale, purchase, trade, barter, or distribution (other than to legal beneficiaries) of any item containing worked (ie., decorated) or raw elephant or mammoth ivory, including antiques – whereas current New York law allows sales of all ivory if the seller secures a license from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and obtained the ivory before 1978 for the African elephant and 1976 for the Asian elephant. By prohibiting currently-legal transactions of antiques and mammoth ivory, the bill closes two of the loopholes most commonly used by ivory traffickers: pretending their items are mammoth or old, and thus legal, when they’re really from often recently-killed elephants. And by setting forth a ban instead of a temporary measure, the bill ensures we won’t have to revisit this issue in a few years!
The bill also brings the punishments for violating New York’s wildlife trade laws more in line with the crime. Currently, New York law treats illegal wildlife transfers as a relatively minor offense, basing the punishment on the value of the wildlife sold with the strongest penalties for wildlife sales exceeding $1,500. However, given the fact that ivory sells for around $900 a pound, capping penalties at $1,500 doesn’t provide a sufficient deterrent to wildlife traffickers. This bill solves that by creating new penalties for sales exceeding $25,000 and sales exceeding $250,000. And these new penalties won’t just help elephants—instead, they’ll apply to all wildlife, fish, shellfish, and crustaceans covered by New York’s wildlife commercialization law.
NRDC will be working to ensure that this bill becomes law quickly. However, in the meantime, DEC should grant the requests of NGOs, including NRDC, and Assemblyman Sweeney, by putting a hold on issuing permits for ivory sales until there are provisions in place in New York that provide elephants with protection.