The Los Angeles Superior Court has upheld California’s ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn, rejecting claims that the ban was unconstitutional. The Ivory Education Institute — a group promoting ivory use — challenged the law in 2016.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Conservation Society intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of the state of California to help defend the law, which many of these groups sponsored in 2015.
“If we want to stop elephants from being slaughtered for their tusks, we must cut off the markets that cause the demand,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of wildlife trade for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “California’s ivory ban ensures that illegal elephant ivory is not sold under the guise of legal ivory. Paired with the ivory ban laws in New York, Hawaii and other states, and with the funding California’s Governor Jerry Brown recently dedicated towards enforcing this law — we’re confident it’s going to make a big difference in U.S. demand for elephant ivory and, ultimately, poaching of elephants in Africa.”
“At current poaching levels, elephants could disappear from Africa in roughly 20 years,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision paves the way for other states to follow California’s lead to aggressively restrict ivory trade, giving elephants a fighting chance for a future.”
Said Rebecca Cary, staff attorney for The Humane Society of the United States: “We are thrilled that the court unequivocally upheld the constitutionality of A.B. 96 and California’s right to legislate for the elimination of the illegal ivory trade and the preservation of wildlife Californians care very deeply about.”
Said Peter LaFontaine, campaigns manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare: “We all have a stake in elephants’ future on this planet, and states can and should be involved in the fight against poaching and trafficking. Ivory is worth far less than a living, breathing animal, and by upholding A.B. 96, California is helping to change the mindset that biodiversity is a secondary consideration.”
Said John Calvelli, executive vice president for public affairs and director of the 96 Elephants campaign for the Wildlife Conservation Society: “Today, elephants throughout Africa are trumpeting the decision by the Los Angeles Superior Court to uphold A.B. 96, which effectively bans the sale of ivory in the state of California. We know that the only way to effectively end the ivory trade that is fueling the systematic destruction of elephants throughout Africa is to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand. This means closing all domestic ivory markets whether it is in Nairobi, Beijing, New York City, Los Angeles or San Francisco. This court victory is pivotal and we must continue with the fight to ensure momentum is on the side of the elephants and all wildlife. WCS and our partners ask all to join a movement for wildlife.”
Demand for elephant ivory has skyrocketed in recent years, leading to the poaching of approximately 35,000 elephants per year for their tusks. African savanna elephants have declined by 30 percent in the past seven years and, if current poaching rates continue African forest elephants could be extinct in less than a decade.
The United States contributes to elephant poaching as a significant consumer of ivory. California is home to the second largest ivory market in the nation, behind New York. Up to 90 percent of the ivory for sale in Los Angeles and approximately 80 percent of the ivory for sale in San Francisco likely came from relatively recently killed elephants, according to a 2015 NRDC-commissioned undercover investigation of California’s ivory markets.
To stop elephant poaching, we must reduce demand by banning the trade in ivory products, thus reducing poachers’ incentive to kill elephants in Africa. Fortunately, California’s new law (California Fish and Game Code Section 2022; formerly Assembly Bill 96), which became effective July 2016, will help eliminate California’s illegal ivory trade by banning the sale, offer for sale, possession with intent to sell, and importation with intent to sell of elephant ivory and rhino horn, and increasing penalties to up to $50,000 or twice the value of the goods (whichever is greater) and/or one year in prison. The law includes limited exemptions for activities, including transfers of ivory to legal heirs and beneficiaries, antiques containing less than 5 percent ivory or rhino horn, and musical instruments that were manufactured in 1975 or earlier and which contain less than 20 percent of ivory or rhino horn.
In addition to California, state ivory bans have been enacted in New York, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.