California Senate passes state ivory ban

The only real way to stop the ivory trade is to close the loopholes once and for all.The California Senate just passed, by a 22-13 vote, a landmark bill that would help protect elephants and rhinos halfway across the world. Now, with just one last administrative hurdle to clear, it will go to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature.

Back in June, the California State Assembly passed AB 96, which would restrict the trade of ivory and rhino horn trade in the state, by an overwhelming 62-14 bipartisan vote. Now, with this bill in the Governor’s hands, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and a wide coalition of conservation and animal welfare groups are mounting a final surge to get the bill across the finish line.

This critical piece of legislation, which was originally authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and introduced in the Senate by Senator Ricardo Lara, is designed to close loopholes in existing state law that has allowed the illegal ivory trade to continue nearly unhindered in California.

In a study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council earlier this year, investigators found that between 77% and 90% of ivory being sold in Los Angeles and approximately 80% of ivory being sold in San Francisco was likely illegal under state law. However, with broad exceptions allowing sales of antiques and “pre-ban” (pre-dates 1977) ivory, enforcement has been virtually impossible. Vendors can easily pass off new, recently-poached ivory as “antique” or “pre-ban”— the physical difference is almost indistinguishable, and and some vendors go so far as to artificially “age” ivory to skirt detection.

There is a global demand for ivory and rhino horn, and the only real way to prevent elephants and rhinos from being killed at such an alarming rate is to ban the trade in these products, closing loopholes once and for all everywhere we can.

Given that California is one of the largest commercial markets in the U.S. for illegal ivory, this legislation, if enacted, will have an impact far beyond the state’s borders and will be an important piece to the puzzle in ending the brutal slaughter of elephants and rhinos abroad.  Furthermore, it may well serve as a catalyst for other states, the federal government, and perhaps even other consumer nations to close similar loopholes.

California is one of several states looking to do their part by passing ivory trade legislation. New York and New Jersey have already passed laws, while bills are moving forward in Massachusetts and elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the federal government has recently proposed stronger federal regulations that would close several loopholes at the interstate and import/export level.

IFAW is working with legislators, concerned citizens, and other NGO’s to help implement these measures, because ivory and horn trade anywhere is a threat to elephants and rhinos everywhere.


Inspired by this state-level action? Urge USFWS to finalize an ivory rule at the federal level with teeth. 

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
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