Hawaii lawmakers are expected to push for a statewide ban on the sale of ivory when the legislative session begins in January, in an effort to help curb the illegal slaughter of elephants in Africa.
Bills proposing a ban on the sale of ivory in Hawaii have died in the Legislature for the past two years, as other states — including California, New York, New Jersey and Washington — have passed prohibitions.
Earlier this year House Bill 837 passed the state House but died in the Senate. The bill stalled in the Senate’s Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, chaired by Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui).
Baker didn’t respond to a request to comment on whether she would support a bill if it is again referred to her committee.
New measures are expected to be sponsored by Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) and Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Chinatown-Iwilei-Kalihi).
Lawmakers, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Hawaii chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, as well as other advocates, gathered at the Capitol on Monday to encourage passage of an ivory ban.
“At this point we are really the biggest market where the ivory trade isn’t banned or restricted somehow,” Rhoads said during the meeting, calling the slaughter of elephants “unconscionable.”
The ban could also include prohibitions on the sale of rhinoceros horns and tusks from walrus, narwhals, whales, hippos and mammoths.
In recent years an estimated 30,000 elephants have been killed annually for their tusks, and animal rights advocates are concerned that the African pachyderm could soon become extinct. Supporters hope that reducing the demand for ivory will cut down on the number of elephants being killed.
Despite Hawaii’s relatively small population, the state has ranked third, behind New York and California, for ivory sales, according to research conducted by the Humane Society.
On Oahu there were 23 outlets selling nearly 2,000 items made of ivory, such as jewelry, carvings and statues, according to a 2008 study conducted by the U.K.-based conservation group Care for the Wild.
Since then many of the ivory sales in Hawaii are believed to have moved online.
With bans being implemented in other states, Inga Gibson, director of the Hawaii chapter of the Humane Society, said the Hawaii market, which is fueled by Asian and mainland travelers, could become even more robust as dealers look for outlets to sell their products.
“We are looking at being the top market,” Gibson said.
Federal law prohibits the import and export of ivory in the United States. However, animal rights groups estimate that only 10 percent of the ivory coming into the U.S. is seized by border patrols, necessitating state laws that further restrict the trade.
“There really is a crisis going on right now that is really unprecedented,” said Keith Swindle, a special agent for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to the slaughter of African elephants, he said about 130 park rangers had been killed by poachers in recent years.
This year’s proposed ban, which failed, was opposed by the Hawaii Rifle Association, as well as some retailers, who testified that the measure wouldn’t help save elephants.
“It is not going to affect the survival of elephant populations in Africa,” Maxwell Cooper, a legislative liaison for the Hawaii Rifle Association, an affiliate of the national organization, wrote in testimony. “Stable governments there with effective game management are doing so now.”