California legislature sends ivory ban bill to Gov. Jerry Brown

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkelo
Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, photo by Andrea Turkelo

The nation’s most populous state may soon ban the import, purchase, sale, and possession of all products made from ivory and rhinoceros horn.

By a 47-21 vote, the state assembly sent the ban bill, AB 96, to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

The far-reaching measure would close a loophole in California law that exempted ivory products obtained before June 1, 1977.

The United States is thought to be the world’s second-largest importer of ivory products and two large California cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are locations that experience a high volume of trade in them.

A federal law called the African Elephant Conservation Act bans the import of almost all ivory, but that statute exempts ivory obtained before 1989.

There is no effective way for customs officials or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to determine the age of imported ivory.

That is the same problem that has impaired the effectiveness of California’s existing law. Because it is easy to declare that ivory in one’s possession was obtained prior to June 1, 1977, and it is difficult to prove otherwise, trafficking in ivory has continued.

About 100 African elephants are poached for their tusks each day and, between 2010-2012, about 100,000 of the animals were illegally killed in their native habitat.

The total number of African elephants has declined from at least several million individuals, and possibly tens of millions, at the beginning of the twentieth century to somewhere between 400,000-700,000 individuals.

The various species of rhinoceros are in deep trouble. Killing of individuals for their horn, which is valued in Asian cultures for medicine but which provides no medical benefit, has caused the reduction of the northern white rhinoceros to four individuals. The population of southern white rhinoceros, also native to Africa, is estimated at about 20,000 individuals, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, while all species of black rhinoceros number about 5,000. Two of the three Asian rhinoceros species – the Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses – are critically endangered, with total populations under 100 individuals.

Brown has not publicly said whether he will sign AB 96 into law.

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