We Must Have Progress on Ivory Bans

Five tons of ivory worth around 10 million euros ($14 million) wait to be burnt on June 27, 2011 in Libreville to mark his go
Five tons of ivory worth around 10 million euros ($14 million) wait to be burnt on June 27, 2011 in Libreville to mark his government's commitment to battling poachers and saving elephants. The pyre that was kindled in the capital Libreville represented the west African nation's entire government stockpile and would have required the killing of some 850 elephants. AFP PHOTO / WILS YANICK MANIENGUI (Photo credit should read WILS YANICK MANIENGUI/AFP/GettyImages)

They say "perfection is the enemy of the good," and the quest for perfection in animal protection legislation is a numbing, head-banging concept. There are too many vested interests; too many antagonistic legislators; too many hurdles. But, in the past two decades, we have collectively become much more adroit in our approach to the political and legislative process as it pertains to animals. We've had success at the federal level and we've seen a raft of bills introduced across America in various states to address animal cruelty and conservation threats. The incremental changes we are making are building blocks and we can add to each accomplishment to produce an outcome that saves lives and prevents suffering. Every effort matters--and every step forward, no matter how small, is part of the path toward significant change.

Last year, more than 20 states introduced bills to ban or restrict the trade in ivory and rhino horn. Over and over, we were asked by legislators why these bills mattered, and how they could possibly help save animals thousands of miles away. And, despite resounding evidence that shutting down the ivory trade everywhere is important, most of these bills died.

So, do we admit defeat and decide that passing this legislation is impossible in many states? Or, do we move forward with a little bit of compromise, with a willingness to meet legislators halfway on some issues, and a determination to get the best law we can on the books--even if imperfect?
We move forward, always.

Because, case after case shows us that we urgently need these laws on the books, even if not every element is ideal. The news last week handed us a crystal clear example. In a district court in Buffalo, New York, a 77-year-old man, Ferdinand Krizan, pled guilty to trafficking in elephant tusks bought from an auction house in Montreal, imported to New York, and then sold on, with others, to a buyer in Massachusetts. He also allegedly trafficked in narwhal tusks. New York has an ivory law, but Massachusetts does not yet.

As long as there are states that allow the sale of ivory, elephants (and, indeed, other species) are going to be killed and their parts will be laundered into this deadly trade.

We know that this happens often. In 2014, an antiques shop dealer in Philadelphia was sentenced to prison for smuggling elephant ivory from West Africa into the U.S., staining the ivory brown to make it look older and therefore pass it off as antique. A few years earlier, someone in Nantucket was charged with importing elephant ivory and whale teeth into the U.S. together, presumably as a means of covering up the fact that he was trafficking in illegal ivory.

These are, of course, only some of the incidents that we know about and that have been prosecuted. Presumably, there are many, many others that go undetected, where savvy criminals use the loopholes in the current legal system to ply their unscrupulous activity. We know that, often, the simple answer is the best answer--and that is to institute the strongest possible prohibitions on the trade in imperiled wildlife parts and products.

Since January 2012, more than 141,000 elephants have been killed in Africa, suggesting that the poaching crisis is, once again, escalating out of control. Every effort matters in the fight to shut down the ivory market--in every nation, state, and city. There are efforts at the federal level to address some of these concerns, alongside bills in states such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, Delaware, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. Successfully walking that tightrope in these states between ideal, unequivocal prohibitions and legislative reticence can mean the difference between life and death for animals who may be the victims of criminals who exploit current opportunities for trafficking.

We may not walk away with a perfect outcome, but passing a law--even one with exemptions--means we will have a basis for further progress. And, we will always seize every opportunity for progress when that means we take a step closer toward keeping wildlife in the wild.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,