Hawaii holds strong against illegal animal trade 


Jessica Else, The Garden Island

Date Published

For years, Hawaii has been a hotspot for the black market trade of whales, elephants, walrus and tigers.

In fact, for at least the past decade, the state has been the third-largest market for illegal wildlife trade and now the Hawaii Legislature is taking a tougher stand on the issue.

In late June Hawaii passed Act 125, the most comprehensive U.S. state law targeting illegal wildlife trade. It was the third state in the country, after New York and California, to enact a law that is directly aimed at banning the trafficking of parts and product of 17 of the world’s most critically threatened, endangered or protected wildlife species, including native Hawaiian species.

“The scope of this bill is the largest state ban on the trafficking of endangered wildlife in the United States, including a ban on the sale of ivory in Hawaii, which is the third-largest market for ivory products in the U.S. behind New York and California,” said Sen. Ron Kouchi. “The passage of this bill ensures that Hawaii’s future generations will be able to appreciate and treasure these endangered and native Hawaiian wildlife in their natural habitats.”

According to Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a consultant to assist the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife in pushing for the passage of the bill, Hawaii is a major port for imports, particularity from Asia and wildlife products both pass through and are sold in the islands.

“We know from the studies and law enforcement that such animals have included whale, elephant, walrus and tiger,” Watson said.

Act 125 requires a wide range of global partners, Watson said, and has garnered national attention, particularly from Dan Ashe, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Hawaii’s leadership pushed the national effort to new heights,” Watson said. “As the national strategy calls for combating the multi-billion dollar wildlife trafficking industry, this will require a wide range of global partners.”

Act 125 is tailored to Hawaii’s local species — like shark, turtle and ray products — and economy, but it also addresses a wide range of wildlife products such as ivory.

“I think we tailored the state law very carefully,” Watson said. “There are still many, many exemptions. It’s an important partnership that will educate people here and nationally about critically endangered species.”