California ivory busts highlight efficacy of state bans

Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) said that the sting was intended to “[make] it clear that illegal trafficking of animals in California won’t be tolerated.”

California authorities seized dozens of illegal ivory items from dealers in Los Angeles County last week, making good on the state’s landmark 2015 ivory ban law. In an interview with the LA Times, a spokesman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) said that the sting was intended to “[make] it clear that illegal trafficking of animals in California won’t be tolerated.”

The law, AB 96, was supported by IFAW and a diverse coalition of local and national groups, and received broad support in the state legislature. Shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, a pro-ivory trade group brought a lawsuit against the regulation—but that attack was rejected by the California Superior Court, a decision buoyed by testimony from our coalition.

Despite a six-month grace period built into the new rules, the recent busts (with seizures worth several hundred thousand dollars) showed that some dealers still value ivory sculptures and trinkets over living elephants. District attorneys will need to decide whether to bring charges in each case. Given the severity of the global poaching crisis, which is driving some elephant populations toward extinction, we hope that the consequences help to dissuade other retailers from making the same decision.

IFAW commends the California DFW for a job well done. Passing a protective law is a big step in the right direction, but making sure that law is properly enforced can be a big hurdle given the number of other priorities that agencies have to deal with.

We know that 2017 and the years ahead will present us with tough fights over these priorities, and though some lawmakers (particularly in Washington, DC) are rushing to slash agency budgets to the bone, we have to make it clear to them that our planet and its animals aren’t negotiable line items. Although stopping wildlife trafficking is widely seen as a bipartisan issue, state laws like this one are a crucial part of the system and will be ever more so if President Trump or Congress backslide on the immense progress of the last few years. As the DFW put it, “What we can control is what’s going on in California,” but it takes all of us to make the rest of the world a safer place for elephants.

--PL

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