(Left Photo) Vendor Sydnas Sloot, of Westport, MA, offered several elephant ivory trinkets for sale at the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s annual Nautical Antiques Show
As Massachusetts legislators prepare to hear testimony today for a bill to prohibit the sale of ivory and rhino horn, results from an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International (HSI) highlight the unregulated ivory trade thriving in the state and the urgency for action to end this pernicious trade.
In May 2019, HSUS and HSI found elephant ivory items for sale by five vendors at the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Annual Nautical Antiques Show, including sellers from Maine and Rhode Island. Among the items for sale: elephant ivory-handled canes, ivory dollhouse furniture, and large elephant ivory cannisters that the seller said he made himself out of “the straight part” of an elephant tusk.
The ivory sellers were unable to produce documentation verifying the age or origin of the ivory when asked by the investigator. Without documentation, it is impossible to know whether items were imported in violation of federal law, which prohibits imports or interstate sales of ivory from recently killed elephants. Under federal law, sellers are responsible for demonstrating through documentation that items were lawfully imported.
“The trade in ivory contributes greatly to a devastating decline in elephant populations. I am deeply saddened that ivory sales are occurring right here in my home state of Massachusetts, and that the New Bedford Whaling Museum would host an event where ivory is being sold at all—particularly without apparent authentication that is required by our federal government,” said Kitty Block, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International in a statement. “The state of Massachusetts must ban the sale of ivory now and no longer condone a trade that adds to the destruction of one of our most iconic species.”
This current investigation reinforces findings from previous investigations in Massachusetts. A 2017 investigation by HSUS and HSI found nearly 700 ivory items for sale by 64 vendors in Massachusetts stores, an auction, outdoor markets and an antique festival, including locations in New Bedford. Without a state law in place, businesses will continue to openly sell or offer for sale ivory or rhino horn items in Massachusetts with impunity.
A 2015 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) of the U.S. ivory market that surveyed Craigslist listings identified Boston as one of the top five markets among all locations surveyed (45 items identified over a five-day survey).
In May 2015, a business owner in Concord pleaded guilty to conspiring with a transnational wildlife trafficking ring and smuggling elephant ivory and rhino horn products from the U.S. to China, with the value of the shipped goods exceeding $700,000. The woman was also coaching an alleged co-conspirator on ways to ship items with minimal chances of detection by customs inspectors.
A Boston Globe investigative report in 2015 found “brisk trade in illicit ivory.”
California, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington, have passed laws prohibiting wildlife trafficking that are similar to the legislation that HSUS and HSI support in Massachusetts. Voters in Oregon and Washington approved statewide ballot measures on the issue by 70-30 margins in both states.
The illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry that affects millions of animals and communities around the world. Wild animals such as elephants and rhinos are killed in massive numbers and suffer from horrific cruelty. Poachers brutally kill elephants and remove their tusks, sometimes while the animal is still alive.
The African savanna elephant population has declined by 144,000 – 30% of the population – since 2007, primarily because of poaching. More than 1,000 rhinos were poached in Africa in 2018, out of 29,000 rhinos remaining worldwide.
The legal market for ivory products provides a cover for illegal ivory products to flourish because of the ease of mixing the two. Enforcement efforts are often hampered by a lack of resources or the difficulty of visually distinguishing illegal ivory from legally acquired ivory.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instituted a near-total ban on importing or engaging in the interstate sale of African elephant ivory in 2016. However, federal regulations do not address intrastate trade in African elephant ivory. States must do their part to ensure that their laws sufficiently protect at-risk animals.