Interviewer: "This is ivory, you said?
Store owner: "I'll say it's ivory so long as you don't say you're busted."
The exchange was caught on undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States to show how easy it is to buy ivory products in Hawaii. According to one study conducted in 2008, Hawaii was the third largest market for ivory products in the U.S., behind New York and California. "The reality is eight to $10 billion a year is spent on wildlife trafficking. It's the fourth largest criminal activity behind narcotics, counterfeiting and human trafficking," said state Sen. Mike Gabbard, (D) Kapolei. Gabbard is the co-author of a bill just approved by the state Legislature that would make Hawaii the fifth state in the the country to prohibit the sale of ivory.
But the Hawaii ban is one of the broadest so far. It not only bars the sale of elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns but it also bans the trafficking of parts from other endangered animals such as hippos, apes, tigers, leopards and cheetahs. Trade in parts from local species such as green sea turtles, whales, monk seals and some rays and sharks are also covered.
Critics are calling on Gov. David Ige to veto it. They say that animal rights advocates overstate the problem of illegal ivory and that nearly all of the product sold here is legal. Bob Hartman is the owner of the Whaler's Locker in Lahaina, which has sold carvings from whale's teeth for 45 years. He said the measure will force his store to shut down. "Millions of dollars in businesses and lives that will be wiped out," he said. "Our legislators have been sold a politically correct bunch of baloney."
Right now, federal law bars the import and export of ivory. That's the law that was used to prosecute Curtis Wilmington, owner of Hawaiian Accessories. He recently pleaded guilty of conspiring to smuggle walrus ivory and whale teeth carvings into Hawaii.
But animal protection advocates said there's a loophole. "It only regulates what's coming in and out of the state and Fish and Wildlife officials are only able to intercept about 10 percent of those items coming in," said Inga Gibson, Hawaii Director for the Humane Society of the United States. The new proposal gives the state Department of Land and Natural Resources the law enforcement authority over the illegal trade.
Gabbard says the problem of poaching is only getting worse. "I heard of one of the cases where the poachers put cyanide in one of the waterholes and poisoned 300 elephants," said Gabbard. "And last week in Kenya (there was) that mass burn of all those tusks."
If it's signed by Gov. Ige, the ban goes into effect next year.