Hawaii says “No More!” to wildlife traffickers

Hawaii was likely the biggest remaining market in the US ivory trade, and passage of this bill means that the top three markets are now crossed off the board.The Hawaii legislature has just passed a bill to restrict sales of ivory and other wildlife products from imperiled species, making it the fifth state in the nation to prioritize biodiversity and animal welfare over jewelry and home décor.

Following close on the heels of ivory and rhino horn bans in New York and California, the Aloha State was likely the biggest remaining market in the US ivory trade, and the pending passage of this law means that the top three markets are now crossed off the board. New Jersey (ivory and rhino) and Washington (a multi-species ban) have also stepped up in recent years.

It’s a great feeling to see this progress, but this was not simply a feel-good bill.

The problem in Hawaii is real. An IFAW-led “snapshot investigation” of online ivory sales found more than 4,600 items worth more than $1.2 million available on the islands, with little documentation proving it was legal under federal law.

An undercover investigation by the Humane Society showed retailers brushing aside questions of age and provenance, and even in some cases offering to help buyers circumvent border controls. State and federal agents have caught smugglers operating out of “legitimate” businesses, and have found tiger pelts and other animal parts brazenly offered for sale.

Hawaii’s citizens spoke up loudly in support of reforms: A 2016 poll revealed that 85 percent of Hawaii residents and voters backed legislation to ban sales of products that use endangered wildlife species.

Well-known proponents of the bill who live or work there—like music icon Mick Fleetwood and IFAW Honorary Board members Keely and Pierce Brosnan—penned an open letter in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser urging passage.

Although the state is still a major international destination for nature lovers, it has struggled with species loss and other environmental problems in recent decades, and its residents are acutely aware of the importance of conservation measures.

After a years-long debate over Hawaii’s role in the global trafficking chain, legislators and their constituents had seen enough: the final vote was unanimously in favor.

Now the bill will go to Governor David Ige to be signed into law, capping a hard-fought campaign of which supporters can be proud.

Under the new law, it would be illegal to sell products made from elephants, rhinoceroses, mammoths (some unscrupulous merchants mislabel elephant ivory as “mammoth” to dodge enforcement), hippopotamus, pangolins, tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, great apes, monk seals, walruses, narwhals and other whales, sea turtles, sharks and rays.

There are exemptions for native Hawaiian practices and for some antiques, musical instruments, guns and knives that contain small amounts of ivory or other wildlife parts.

The only way to stop poaching is to remove profit from the equation.

As the US federal government readies new national-level restrictions on ivory trade, laws like this one help to plug the loopholes that remain, with one ultimate goal in sight: a sharp reduction of the poaching that is driving elephants, rhinos, and hundreds of other species closer to the edge of extinction.

Together, tighter regulations (both federal and state) are a key bulwark against that looming tragedy, but much more work lies ahead.

Joining the many local organizations and agencies in Hawaii that pushed this issue to the front page, IFAW’s national partners included the Wildlife Conservation Society, Humane Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Vulcan Inc.

Thank you all—partners, legislators, and Hawaii citizens alike—for your unrelenting pursuit to get this bill passed.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
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