The poaching of African elephants for their ivory tusks is threatening to drive the species to extinction. For that reason, many nations–including the U.S.–severely restrict the trafficking of ivory. But an alarming report just released from four conservation nonprofits indicate that the vast majority of ivory sold in Hawaii lacks crucial documentation indicating that the material was obtained legally.
“The lack of documentation from these online retailers potentially allows recently poached ivory to be sold side by side with truly antique ivory, confusing law enforcement officers and consumers alike,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director, International Fund for Animal Welfare, in a Mar. 3 press release on the new report. “It’s far too easy for legal and illegal ivory to coexist in the market place. If elephants are to have a chance of survival, the ivory trade needs to go extinct.”
The 20-page report, sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), took a “snap shot” of online ivory retailers in Hawaii. The results weren’t good, to say the least.
“In just six days, investigators found more than 1,800 advertisements for ivory jewelry, carved walrus tusks, scrimshawed elephant toenails,” states the news release. “All told, more than 4,600 items–worth more than $1.2 million–were offered for sale. The overwhelming majority of products were advertised as elephant ivory and could have been illegal, as they lacked evidence proving that the tusks and carvings had been imported in accordance with federal law.”
Researchers found 47 ivory sellers throughout the state, 13 of which were located on Maui (the report doesn’t identify any of them by name). “Twenty-six were businesses including stores, galleries, artist associations, estate liquidators, and antique and auction websites, while twenty-one were individuals operating on the peer-to-peer site Craigslist.org,” states the report. “Though many of the businesses also have physical storefronts on the islands, this investigation focused on online commerce exclusively and did not compile data on retailers’ offline sales activity.”
Just one of the retailers, the report noted, had adequate documentation on the source of the ivory it sold.
The vast majority of the ivory sold in Hawaii, researchers noted, came from elephants. “Of the 4,661 products in stock or for sale, 3,986 (91%) were created from elephant parts, primarily ivory tusks,” states the report. “[O]f the remainder, 210 were whale, 96 were mammoth, 82 were walrus, 3 were hippopotamus, and 108 were listed as cow or ox bone but were suspected to be ivory based on the description, photographs, and price points.” Jewelry constituted nearly 94 percent of the ivory researchers found, the report noted.
The report makes clear the dangers associated with so much undocumented ivory sold in Hawaii:
The poaching crisis faced by African elephants today is driven by demand for their tusks, and online markets like the ones covered in this investigation help to fill this demand. Moreover, the general lack of documentation from the online retailers that we scrutinized could allow recently poached ivory to be sold side by side with truly antique ivory, confusing law enforcement officers and consumers alike.
With New York and California passing ivory bans in the last two years, Hawai‘i now constitutes the largest remaining ivory market in the United States. Hawai‘i should do its part to protect African elephants by enacting a ban of its own. By halting ivory sales in the state, Hawai‘i would be directly helping to protect one of the world’s most iconic species from being driven to extinction for the sake of trinkets, decorative statutes and jewelry.
Click here to read the report.
Photo of raw ivory seized in 2013: US Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons