Legal Fight Expands Over New York Ban on Ivory, Rhino Horn

Conservation, Animal Groups Defend Protections for Elephants, Rhinos

NEW YORK — A coalition of conservation and animal protection organizations have taken the first step to intervene to help defend New York’s ivory and rhinoceros horn ban against a lawsuit brought by antique traders. New York’s law, enacted in 2014, bans the sale, purchase, trade, and distribution of ivory and rhino horn, but exempts certain products, including bona fide antiques and certain musical instruments. The antique traders’ lawsuit, filed in April in the Southern District of New York, alleges that the New York law is unconstitutional.

Concerned with the ongoing poaching crisis of both elephants and rhinos, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) are seeking to intervene to help defend the law, which protects these species by closing markets that provide cover for illegal trade.

“New York has the right to legislate for eliminating the ivory trade and preserving wildlife New Yorkers care deeply about,” said Rebecca Cary, senior staff attorney with the Humane Society of the United States. “Efforts to dismantle the New York law would be a significant step backwards in elephant and rhino conservation.”

Demand for elephant ivory has skyrocketed in recent years with the most comprehensive survey of African elephants — called the Great Elephant Census — indicating that an estimated 144,000 elephants were lost in Africa between 2007 and 2014 alone, and populations are currently shrinking by 8 percent per year continent-wide, primarily due to poaching.

“By adopting this law, New York did its part to put the kibosh on the poaching crisis that’s pushing elephants and rhinos toward extinction,” said Tanya Sanerib, international program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We can’t let a few antique traders reopen the U.S.’s largest ivory market.”

Unfortunately, products alleged to be antiques can and often do provide cover for illegally trafficked ivory and rhino horn. 

“If we are going to keep endangered species on the planet, we have to think of them as more than decorations or furniture. The dealers are clinging to a business model that puts these animals’ aesthetics over their preservation,” said Zak Smith, Senior Attorney and Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Wildlife Trade Initiative. “Their challenge to this historic ban is baseless, and we look forward to ensuring it stays on the books.”

“At this point in time, we need to be reducing demand for ivory – not increasing trade in these products,” said John Calvelli, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs, Wildlife Conservation Society. “The only way to effectively end the ivory trade that is fueling the systematic destruction of elephants throughout Africa is to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand.”

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, rated most effective by our peers. For 60 years, we have celebrated the protection of all animals and confronted all forms of cruelty. We are the nation’s largest provider of hands-on services for animals, caring for more than 100,000 animals each year, and we prevent cruelty to millions more through our advocacy campaigns. Read more about our 60 years of transformational change for animals and people, and visit us online at

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Founded in 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) works to save wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve that goal, we harness the power of our zoos and aquarium with our conservation field program. We work in nearly 60 countries and all of the world’s oceans, focused on the protection of 6 species groups: elephants, big cats, apes, whales & dolphins, sharks & rays, and turtles & freshwater tortoises. Our conservation work in New York City is achieved through a network of four zoos and an aquarium. These parks, including the world famous Bronx Zoo, connect more than 4 million visitors annually to nature and inspire them to advocate for wildlife. Visit us at




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