Wednesday, September 3, 2014

United States Contemplating Tougher Ivory Laws Amidst Rise in Elephant Poaching

Thai officials with confiscated ivory products and tusks during a news conference in Bangkok.

It has recently been reported that the United States is moving to enforce tougher bans on selling of ivory in an effort to halt a recent rise in elephant poaching. It has been noted that the states of New Jersey and New York have already taken steps to stiffen restrictions on the sale of ivory, and environmental groups indicate that their next aim is California. According to Elly Pepper, a policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the law in California needs to be improvised. She further indicated the reason California needs to strengthen its law in banning ivory sale by providing her own account of witnessing an appalling amount of ivory in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. A 2008 study from Care for the Wild International showed that California is the second-largest market for ivory after New York with major centers in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even though California has tough laws regarding ivory, Ms. Pepper stated that she is working with other organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, to introduce a legislation that would boost enforcement, increase penalties for misdemeanors, and block legal loopholes. Ms. Pepper pointed out that one of the loopholes is a law allowing the sale of ivory imported before 1977. She further added that it is hard to make a distinction between ivory imported before and after 1977, and that increasing a minimum of $1,000 fine is not enough to discourage the smugglers. Although the federal government ruled that all commercial imports of elephant ivory regardless of age should be banned in the country, some state legislators pointed out that the actions did not go far enough. One of them is New Jersey state Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat and primary advocate of his state's law which prohibits the barter, purchase, sale or possession of ivory or rhino horn with restricted exceptions for educational purposes. He indicated that the federal government has made too many exceptions that can easily be avoided by people dealing illegal ivory in the country. These loopholes imply to sport hunters and antique dealers. The tougher federal and state laws have even caused resentment from antique dealers, musicians, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) asserting that what they are doing has no impact on the illegal ivory trade and that they are able to distinct between old ivory and new ivory. However, environmental groups argued that new ivory often comes into the country disguised as antique ivory and that no one knows what is legal and what is illegal.
Elephants in Kenya

The illegal trade of ivory in the past years has and continues to claim countless lives of Africa's elephants. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicated that more than 100,000 elephants were ruthlessly slaughtered for their tusks from 2010 to 2012. The study further showed that the scale of elephants killed illegally has skyrocketed from 25 percent to between 60 and 70 percent in the last decades. The statistics and numerous reports of elephants killed prompted intensive measurements to battle the ongoing threat of poaching. One of these measurements included toughening of ivory laws in the U.S on both federal and state levels. However, despite the federal government of the U.S taking action against the illegal ivory, there are several loopholes that enable sport hunters and antique dealers to bring, deal, and possess ivory in the country. States like California has been found to be the second-largest market for ivory, despite having strict laws against the ivory trade. This is why it is absolutely crucial that all the state governments of the U.S must enforce harsh laws against the illegal ivory trade, which not only includes bolstering enforcement and penalties for crimes related to this illicit business but also block the loopholes which allow ivory to come into the country unnoticed. In addition, the federal government should also join forces with state governments in ensuring that ivory does not end up on the U.S. Furthermore, countries like China and other Asian countries should follow in the footsteps of their American counterpart in imposing harsh laws directed at banning the ivory trade without any loopholes to allow ivory to enter such countries. This is especially important since Asia continues to have a growing demand for ivory, despite numerous crackdowns and seizures made in other parts of the world. The most recent case was reported in Cameroon where 200 elephant tusks were seized. In order to effectively combat the illegal trade of ivory and other wildlife products, conservationists, environmentalists, and authorities must target corrupt officials who are known to cooperate with criminal networks in the black market trade. This would help in apprehending not just poachers, but also prominent figures of organized criminal syndicates that operate and oversee the trade of endangered species around the world.

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