While animal advocates around the globe were going grey for World Elephant Day, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law banning ivory in the state in an effort to help ensure the future survival of these iconic animals in our world.
While the sale of new ivory has been banned across the country for years, conservationists believe the market for pre-ban ivory has offered a cover for illegal sales and that the laws and punishments were too weak to be deterrents.
The new law, known as Fitzpatrick’s Law in honor Lt. John Fitzpatrick – an Environmental Conservation Officer for the State Department of Environmental Conservation who fought to protect elephants from the trade – makes it illegal to sell elephant and mammoth ivory or rhino horns within the state, with exceptions for “antiques demonstrated to be at least 100 years old and containing only a small amount of ivory,” which could include certain instruments made before 1975, and transfers for educational and scientific purposes or for family heirlooms.
It also increases fines exponentially for anyone who violates the state’s wildlife trafficking laws and makes it a Class D felony for articles exceeding $25,000, which will mean fines and jail time.
“Today, New York State is taking a stand against a dangerous and cruel industry that is endangering animals across the world,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Restricting the market for ivory articles will help bring an end to the slaughtering of elephants and rhinoceroses and sends a clear message that we will not allow the illegal ivory trade to continue in New York. I urge other states and nations to join us in working to protect these endangered species for generations to come.”
Conservationists believe the situation for these species is dire and urgent action is needed. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), 96 elephants are killed every day in Africa. By some estimates they could disappear entirely in the next 10 years if things continue the way they’re going.
Last week, WCS’s Dr. Liz Bennet proposed a complete ban on ivory sales and the destruction of all stockpiles as the only solution to saving elephants, mostly because corruption is undermining our ability to maintain a legal trade. While that might not happen overnight, the steps being taken in the U.S. are promising.
Even though China is home to the largest market for ivory, the U.S. is believed to be the second largest market, with New York City being a major hub of action. Lawmakers pointed to a joint investigation conducted in 2012 by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that resulted in the seizure of over $2 million worth of elephant ivory from jewelers in New York City to illustrate how pervasive the problem is.
Elephant advocates are applauding the move and hope other states and countries will follow the efforts made in both New York and New Jersey this week to shut down illegal wildlife trafficking and protect elephants and rhinos.
John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Director of the 96 Elephants campaign, told NBC efforts will now be focused on states with ports and large populations, including Illinois, Florida, California and Connecticut. Hawaii is also currently considering making a similar move.
“We are honored to share this historic moment with the Governor and our growing family of supporters in bringing the ivory trade to an end in New York State, the number one importer of ivory in the United States. We hope that the leadership shown by Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature will prompt leaders around the globe to redouble their efforts to help save elephants for future generations,” he said in a statement.
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