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New Jersey Cracks Down on Ivory Trade

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Aug 06, 2014 01:26 PM EDT
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New Jersey is the first US state to take a stand against the cruel ivory and rhino horn trade, banning all such items in a new law passed Tuesday. (Photo : Pixabay)

New Jersey is the first US state to take a stand against the cruel ivory and rhino horn trade, banning all such items in a new law passed Tuesday.

Governor Chris Christie, who signed the legislation, now prohibits both the import and in-state sale of both ivory and rhino horn.

"We are proud of Governor Christie and state legislators' actions today and applaud them for recognizing the impact the new law will have on the global ivory trade. New Jersey's leadership shines by setting an example for other states and countries to follow," Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement.

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The new law closes loopholes that had previously allowed for some ivory trade in the state - an important move given that New Jersey is a major hub of entry for smuggled wildlife and an entry point to New York City, the largest market for ivory in the country, according to The Dodo.

Likewise, sport hunters of African elephants will also experience restrictions on what they can bring back to the United States. Before the new rules, big-game hunters could use loopholes in African and US legislation to bring back large quantities of "culled" elephant heads, including ivory. Now, hunters will be limited to legally importing only two dead elephants a year, National Geographic reports.

"These bold actions give us all the tools we need to shut down black market elephant ivory trafficking in this country," said William Woody, chief of law enforcement for the US FWS. "We're eliminating the loopholes that help smugglers launder newly poached blood ivory via US markets."

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is also working towards eradicating this devastating international trade from the United States. They recently made changes to help ensure that domestic markets do not contribute to the decline of African elephants in the wild, while still allowing certain ivory product uses to continue.

"We have one goal: to shut down the illegal trade in ivory that is fueling the poaching crisis facing African elephants today. By implementing a near complete ban on trade in elephant ivory, we are effectively closing loopholes and eliminating the cover provided by legal commercial trade that traffickers have exploited for years," FWS Director Dan Ashe said in a press release in May.

Paying the Ivory Price

Elephants and rhinos have recently taken center stage in global coverage of illegal wildlife trafficking.

African elephants (Loxodonta africana) can be found across central and southern Africa. Weighing more than 13,000 pounds, these massive mammals are hunted for their tusks, either for trophies or for the art of ivory carving and jewelry making, according to the FWS.

A report released by CITIES (or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in June revealed that over 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013.

One beloved elephant in particular named Satao was killed by poachers in June for his ivory, a loss that devastated the wildlife community.

When Satao was born in the late 1960s, more than 275,000 elephants roamed Kenya. Now, that number has dwindled to around 38,000 and continues to fall, The Dodo reported. The species is now listed as threatened.

Elephants aren't the only ones being hunted. Rhinos are also popular targets for their horns, in high demand on the global black market.

"Rhino horns are used in Asian medicines, which are sold to consumers who believe these animal products can be used to treat fever, rheumatism, and gout, or even to cure cancer," the FWS writes.

They are also carved for dagger handles, which is seen as a status symbol in the Middle East.

(Photo : Pixabay)

Wild rhinos can still be found in parts of Asia and Africa, but are scattered - creating less breeding opportunities. Sumatran rhinos have decreased by 50 percent in the past 18 years leaving fewer than 200 surviving, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. Before 1990, black rhinos were abundant, but between 1970-1992 their populations took a downward spiral, declining by a whopping 96 percent.

All five species of rhinos are protected under the CITES, and are all listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The United States: An Ivory Trade Hub

Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand for ivory remain high - even in the United States.

For example, a ton of ivory was seized in a 2011 raid in New York, Yale Environment 360 reported.

"The price of [raw, uncarved] ivory ten years ago was less than $1,000 a pound," but it now sells for "almost $1,500 a pound," said Edward Grace, deputy assistant director for law enforcement at US FWS.

Ivory in the United States, now with the exception of New Jersey, is largely unmonitored and unregulated.

According to figures recently sourced from government agencies by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), more than 7,500 ivory carvings and 1,746 elephant trophies (with two tusks apiece) were legally imported into the U.S. between 2009 and 2012. IFAW found that ivory valued at more than $1 million was available for sale via online auctions in a single month in 2013.

"The illegal ivory is hidden a lot of times in plain sight, with dealers claiming it's legal ivory," Grace noted.

(Photo : Reuters/Joseph Okanga)

A handful of states, including Illinois and California, have passed state ivory laws, though none have completely banned the trade like New Jersey's new ruling.

The United States "has a major problem at home," Elizabeth Bennett, vice president for species conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Yale Environment 360. "But historically, the United States has led the way in terms of species conservation for the whole world through its Endangered Species Act and its contributions to CITES.

"From that point of view alone, even if it's not the single biggest market [for ivory], it could really set an example by addressing it."

Soon other states looking to New Jersey may crack down on the ivory trade and follow suit. Iris Ho, Wildlife Program Manager with Humane Society International, told The Dodo that campaigners are expecting New York's Governor Cuomo to pass a similar bill soon.

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