Ivory is in high demand in California, and up until this week, sales of the material made from elephant tusks were legal if they were imported before 1977.
On Sunday, governor Jerry Brown closed that loophole, signing into law a bill that makes it illegal to buy, sell, or own with the intent to sell ivory or rhinocerous horns—regardless of the date they were imported into the United States. Violators of the law, which goes into effect in July 2016, could face up to $10,000 in fines, a maximum of 30 days in jail, or both. Animal rights organizations around the country applauded the decision, which seeks to curb illegal poaching and crackdown on wildlife trafficking by banning the sale of elephant and rhino parts.
“The goal of 96 Elephants—[the bill] named after the number of elephants gunned down in each day in Africa by poachers—is to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand,” John Calvelli, the executive vice president for public affairs at Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement. “The ivory issue is not something that’s only happening half a world away—there’s a major ivory market right here in the U.S., and California was among its largest consumers,” he said.
More than 100,000 African elephants were killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012, according to a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers concluded that over the last decade, the regional elephant population in central Africa had declined by 64 percent.
Los Angeles and San Francisco are both major markets for ivory. A report comissioned earlier this year by the Natural Resources Defense Council identified the two California cities as having the highest proportions of potentially illegal ivory pieces and the largest ivory markets overall, behind New York City. Researchers estimated that up to 90 percent of the 777 ivory items for sale in Los Angeles were illegal under the existing law, which exempted animal parts imported before January 1, 1977. Under the new law, however, 100 percent of those items for sale are illegal.
The report’s author, Daniel Stiles, noted that the proportion of likely illegal ivory—or ivory that appeared to be recently manufactured—had nearly doubled in the Golden State since his last survey eight years ago. The ivory expert said he observed minimal enforcement of state laws, and concluded that state and federal laws were confusing to buyers and consumers alike.
A trio of federal laws bans the import of African elephant ivory into the United States for commercial purposes, but provides a number of exemptions for non-commercial imports and exports.