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Massachusetts Bill Aims to Stop the Sale of Ivory and Rhino Horn

FILE - Poachers hunt and kill African elephants for their ivory tusks, though the trade is illegal.
FILE - Poachers hunt and kill African elephants for their ivory tusks, though the trade is illegal.

Leading animal welfare and conservation organizations have united to support legislation to ban the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn in the US state of Massachusetts.

The state senate and house bill was introduced by Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Lori Ehrlich. It is seen as a critical step in the fight to save African elephants and rhinos. The two species are being killed at an unprecedented rate as the demand for their tusks and horns increases.

The Washington, DC-based animal welfare organization Born Free USA is a supporter of the bill. The organization’s CEO, Adam M. Roberts, said elephant poaching in Africa has reached a crisis level and continues to escalate.

“What we’ve found is that ivory is coming into the United States both legally and illegally, including ports of entry such as Boston’s Logan Airport. We think that all across the United States, we have a situation where America has essentially become probably the number two ivory importer behind China,” said Roberts. “So, both the United States government and the individual state legislatures across the country need to take the responsibility to try and stop domestic ivory markets as a way of saving elephants in the wild.”.

Roberts further highlighted that among the items that are legal to bring into the US are certified antiques or hunting trophies such as elephant tusks brought back from hunting trips to Africa. However other items such as jewelry, trinkets and piano keys are being seized at ports of entry.

He explained that “part of the problem with the ivory trade right now is that it is very hard to tell legal from illegal ivory. And once you get something into the country, it can be sold illegally, but fraudulently as a legal product.”

If passed, the Massachusetts bill would prevent people from importing, selling, purchasing, bartering or possessing ivory and rhino horn. Ultimately, it would prevent a person in that state from contributing to the poaching that is decimating these endangered species.

On a national level, Roberts said there are bills pending in US Congress.

“One would make poaching much more difficult in Africa because it would make penalties for people that poach much more significant. In other words, this bill that Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced from Oregon called the Tusker Act would look at countries that are implicated in allowing elephant ivory to be sold or rhino horn to be exported. [The bill would] make sure that we are able to put sanctions on those countries easier as a way of trying to crack down and push countries around Africa to do more to stop poaching,” said Roberts, who added there are other similar bills pending.

In Africa, government corruption and poaching are major contributing factors to the decline of wild elephants. Roberts named two countries as examples, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

“In Zimbabwe, you’ve got significant government corruption and you have government leaders who own land where poaching takes place, and profiting by the sale of ivory. In Tanzania, we’ve got significant declines of elephant populations especially in places like the Salo Reserve, and again the Tanzanian government implicated in corruption,” said Roberts.

In addition in parts of Africa where there is instability, the Born Free USA CEO said terrorist organizations will kill the elephants, sell their ivory and use a portion of the proceeds to fund their nefarious activities.

Roberts emphasized that every piece of anti-poaching legislation is a step towards saving the lives of the world’s largest creatures because the bans will help dry up the market and demand for ivory. Once there is no profit in the trade, he said, it will stop.

“But it actually does a second thing which is really important on a political level and that is-- that so much focus has been placed in the past few years on China and trying to stop the Chinese consumption of ivory, the Chinese sale of ivory, but obviously that’s only one part of the problem,” he said.

“It may be the most significant, major part of the problem, but we have to show in America that we’re willing to step up and pass state and federal legislation to do our part to stop the domestic sale of ivory and help these animals in the wild.”