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Ivory Ban Heading to Governor's Desk

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On the elephant where it belongs | Photo: Mindy McAdams/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A bill that would close major loopholes in California's existing ban on sales of ivory passed the State Senate Wednesday in a 2-1 vote, and now heads to the governor's desk for Jerry Brown's signature after the Assembly signs off on a couple of minor amendments.

AB 96, introduced into the Assembly in January by San Diego Assembly member Toni Atkins, closes a loophole that made enforcement of the state's ivory ban difficult. Existing law allows sale of ivory imported before 1977. Conservationists have charged that the existing law allows illicit ivory dealers to skirt the ban by distressing ivory imported after the 1977 cut-off date.

Once signed by the governor, the bill will make it illegal to sell any ivory in California regardless of its date of importation, unless that ivory is part of a musical instrument imported before 1975, or minor detailing on an antique more than 100 years old.

For more on the ivory's trade's effect on wild elephant populations, watch the Earth Focus episode "Illicit Ivory."

The bill will make it much easier for law enforcement agencies to distinguish between legal and illegal ivory: unless it's old piano keys or inlay in an antique with a bonafide provenance paper trail, it's no longer legal to sell in the state of California. Ivory in musical instruments is limited to no more than 20 percent of the volume of the instrument, while ivory-bearing antiques cannot be sold if the ivory exceeds five percent of the object's volume.

It's been a good week for elephants in the Legislature: SB 716, a bill that bans the use of bullhooks as a training tool for captive elements, is also headed for the Governor's desk after passing the Assembly last week in a 69-8 vote. Bullhooks are stout metal hooks on handles two or three feet long that are used to control elephants through the threat of inflicted pain. Los Angeles and Oakland have already banned their use in favor of positive reinforcement. Advocates say that's not only more humane for the elephants but safer for their keepers, who run less risk of being injured by their charges if the elephants don't associate them with being jabbed with sharp metal.

Before it heads to Brown's desk, the ivory ban bill must make a stop in the Assembly for a vote to approve amendments made by the Senate. Those amendments are mainly semantic in nature. The two substantive amendments are likely to win easy approval from the Assembly, which voted 62-14 to approve the extended ban in June. The Senate added mastodons and warthogs to the list of animals whose ivory is banned from sale in the state, and inserted a clause that directs any fines paid by convicted ivory sellers to a special conservation fund.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are second and third only to New York City in illegal sales of elephant ivory in the U.S., and the United States is the second largest market in the world for the illicit material, after China. The illegal ivory trade results in the killing of an estimated 72 African elephants a day. It's nearly impossible to distinguish illegally poached ivory from ivory sold legally through culls, or even from ivory from other animals, without sophisticated laboratory equipment that law enforcement agents rarely possess in the field.

Animal welfare activists were jubilant over the passage of the two bills. "These are landmark bills," said Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States. "If Governor Brown signs them, California will be the first state on the Pacific coast to crack down so meaningfully on the trade of ivory and to end the use of bullhooks. In their own distinct ways, the trade of ivory and the striking of elephants with bullhooks have caused too much needless suffering for these majestic animals. It's exciting to be fighting back by securing these policy gains."
 

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