by Michele Byers

New Jersey is thousands of miles from the killing fields of Africa, where elephants and rhinoceroses are slaughtered for their tusks and horns. But New Jersey is not far from the root cause of this disaster.

The United States is second behind China in demand for these “blood” items, acquired through horrific cruelty and leading to the extinction of these magnificent animals. New York City is America’s biggest market for ivory and rhino horn, and New Jersey’s ports are an entry hub. As long as the market exists, the killing will continue.

Fortunately, New Jersey’s role in the ivory trade may soon be over. This state we’re in just became the first in the nation to ban both the import and in-state sale of rhino horn and ivory from elephants, walruses, whales and several other animals.

In June, the state Legislature passed a bill to prohibit ivory and rhino horn trade. Governor Christie signed it into law on August 5. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar ban a few days later.

“We’re really excited — from an environmental standpoint, from a conservation standpoint, from a humanitarian standpoint and from a national security standpoint,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, the bill’s prime sponsor in the Assembly. “Ivory trafficking is at the highest point in history, and elephants are facing extinction because of it.”

According to animal conservation groups, an estimated 35,000 elephants in Africa were slaughtered for their tusks in 2012, despite laws meant to protect them.

Satao was a recent victim. He was one of Kenya’s best-known elephants, who suffered a painful death after being felled by a poacher’s poison arrow in Tsavo National Park in May. The killing of this giant male in a protected park sparked an international outcry.

“The fight to protect Satao’s relatives and others of his kind must happen on the ground in the range nations,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the U.S. “But it also must happen, in a different way, in the wealthy consumer nations where elephant ivory is carved and turned into high-value products.”

That’s where New Jersey comes in. Much black market ivory has found its way into the U.S. because of loopholes in the law — one of which was the lack of state legislation banning import and in-state sales. The new law closes loopholes and makes federal enforcement easier, said Mukherji. Also shut down are loopholes allowing big-game hunters to bring back large quantities of “culled” elephant heads, including ivory.

New Jersey now prohibits people from buying, selling, importing and possessing ivory and rhino horns with the intent to sell. The only things that are grandfathered, Mukherji said, are owning, bequeathing and inheriting existing ivory items.

Mukherji said that not only will New Jersey’s new law help protect elephants and rhinos, but it will put a damper on terrorist groups. “A lot of these poaching profits go to fund terrorist activities,” he said.

New Jersey has notched many conservation-related “firsts,” and New Jerseyans should be proud that we’re leading the nation in saving some of the world’s most endangered animals. Let’s hope more states follow and the killing ends.

For more information, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation at www.njconservation.org

by Richard D. Smith

State senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union), who helped sponsor bill S-2012 — which bans sales in New Jersey of ivory and ivory-bearing objects and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie on August 5 after passing with overwhelming bipartisan support — declares that it will be “the first ripple of a tidal wave that will spread across America and throughout the world” to save the elephants.

Wonderful, if that happens.

Make no mistake: elephants are headed to extinction in the wild unless decisive actions are taken. Increasingly poached for their ivory tusks, these magnificent animals are on a downward spiral that is horrific and unsustainable.

But will the New Jersey law, as well as newly tightened Federal wildlife and custom regulations, produce only soaring rhetoric? Will the base problem — a huge modern demand in historically ivory-hungry China — be left festering, like the rotting carcasses of slaughtered elephants on the African plains?

That’s the frustration of many people who deal in objects containing ivory that was legally obtained before today’s crisis or even prior to the 1976 listing of elephants under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Some of the ivory whose sale is now prohibited in New Jersey dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, when nearly 10 million elephants roamed Africa. (One estimate puts today’s numbers at 450,000.)

Touring musicians whose vintage instruments could be (and in some cases have been) seized at U.S. borders, museum curators struggling to acquire timeless decorative and religious artworks, owners of local antique shops — all condemn the poaching. But most fear that, in practice, they will be affected more than new ivory smugglers.

“I don’t think we’re the center of the problem by any means,” says David Cowell of Caldwell, president of the Association of Antique Dealers of New Jersey.

Cowell points out that ivory once had utilitarian as well as decorative purposes. For example, small insets in serving spoons or tea pot handles prevented users from being burned by heat convection. When plastics became widely available in the 20th century, this use of ivory essentially ceased.

Proponents of bans on all ivory sales (even ivory from extinct mammoths) insist it’s the only way to close loopholes exploited by illicit traders. They point to high-profile cases in Philadelphia and New York where large stocks of poached ivory were artificially aged to pass as pre-crisis antiques.

“No one wants to see these animals go extinct,” Cowell replies. “But I think the law as written is sloppy.” He notes that it targets sellers but not buyers: “In the case of [illegal] drugs, both the dealers and the buyers are prosecuted.”

Kyle Kinter sells antiques at the Tomato Factory in Hopewell and the People’s Store in Lambertville. He stopped dealing ivory-bearing objects when the new law was proposed and declares that he will obey it. But he echoes the sentiment of many who fear that such laws may end up as feel-good exercises that won’t delay elephant extinction.

“The fact that they’re including objects with small amounts of old ivory as an embellishment is a joke,” Kinter says, adding that legislative efforts limited to America are probably going to be just “a drop in the bucket.”

Significantly, many anti-poaching leaders have gone on record about where the problem must be solved — in African game preserves, where courageous wildlife rangers are typically underpaid and outgunned, and especially across the globe in China, where restrictions on the ivory trade are routinely circumvented. “The Chinese hold the key to the elephants’ future,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, told the New York Times in a March 2, 2013 article.

“China is the epicenter of demand,” Robert Hormats, a senior State Department official, stated in a Times article the following September 4. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”

Some 70 percent of freshly-poached African ivory is believed to end up in China, creating a far more damaging market than the United States. Newly-minted Chinese millionaires blithely pay street prices of $1,000 per pound from brazenly-operating dealers. Online Chinese ivory forums thrive as essentially unregulated markets. And in 2012, more than 150 Chinese citizens were arrested in Africa as ivory smugglers, with poaching seeming to increase in areas where Chinese road construction crews start operating.

Attempts have been made to persuade China to curtail its colossal carbon emissions; to cease dumping underpriced goods on U.S. markets; and to free Tibet. How successful have these been? Can we realistically expect that New Jersey Law S-2012 will hit China’s shores as a tsunami of moral inspiration in the ivory crisis?

One small item of hope: Basketball star Yao Ming — hugely venerated in his native China — had surprising success persuading countrymen to give up the traditional delicacy of soup made from sharks’ fins, thus boosting efforts to save these imperiled sea creatures. Yao Ming is now running a personal full court press against China’s cultural craving for ivory as a status symbol.

It won’t be a slam dunk. But it could save more elephants than banning the sale of old ivory-bearing curios at your local antiques shop.

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