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Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Trafficking

S. 519: An Act relative to ivory and rhinoceros horn trafficking

MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsor: Senator Jason Lewis
Status: Reported favorably by the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on Feb. 7, 2024. Hearing held November 8, 2023. Reported favorably to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

This legislation restricts the trade of ivory and rhino horn within Massachusetts, ensuring that the Commonwealth does not contribute to the global poaching crisis. This legislation largely mirrors 2016 federal ivory trade regulations, which were adopted for the express purpose of addressing the “unparalleled and escalating threats to African elephants.” However, federal law does not regulate intrastate trade in ivory and rhino horn, creating gaping enforcement loopholes, and making state action critical. Vermont, Washington D.C., New Mexico, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state have already implemented similar laws. China instituted a nationwide ban in 2018 and the U.K., the largest exporter of legal ivory, enacted a strict ivory ban in late 2019. The Massachusetts bills do not affect trade in whale or other marine mammal parts, and include common-sense exemptions, such as for musical instruments and museums. It is time that the Commonwealth joins the global effort to stamp out the ivory and rhino horn trade.

Check out our new educational comic strip, created by Boston-area college student Sophia Smith, which explains how wildlife trafficking in ivory and rhino horn has put elephants and rhinos in great peril—and what you can do about it.

Why is this legislation needed?

Wildlife trafficking is a global crisis and is putting elephants and rhinos at risk of extinction. The international illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, with the U.S. ivory market ranking among the top worldwide, and 2016 saw the largest quantity of illegally traded ivory seizures to date. The crisis has reached such a level that scientists predict that at current poaching rates forest elephants could be extinct within a decade. The latest scientific data, from 2016, confirms that a massive decline continues: over the course of 7 years the African savannah elephant population declined by 30%, due primarily to poaching. All five extant rhino species are threatened with extinction, fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remain today, and some rhino populations number only in the hundreds.

Massachusetts is a major contributor to facilitating the illegal ivory trade. Several investigations have revealed that Massachusetts plays a role in the illegal ivory trade. In May 2019, an HSUS undercover investigation at the New Bedford Whaling Museum found several undocumented ivory items for sale. The sellers were unable to produce any documentation as to the age or origin of the items, calling their legality into question. In 2017, another HSUS investigation found ivory items of dubious origins readily available for sale across the Commonwealth, with vendors even offering smuggling tips. Further, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data on the port of Boston from January 2010 to July 2016 revealed both legal and illegal imports into Massachusetts. There have also been several criminal cases involving illegal ivory in Massachusetts, including the following: 

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the legal ivory market, of which the U.S. is one of the largest operators, provides easy cover for the trade of illicit ivory to flourish. Anti-smuggling investigations and market research have shown that illegal ivory and rhino horn are frequently passed off as legal products. Further complicating enforcement, mammoth and mastodon ivory is nearly indistinguishable from elephant ivory to the untrained eye, which creates enforcement burdens and facilitates demand for ivory, as mammoth and mastodon ivory are often intermingled in international shipments and retail sales. As the New York Department of Environmental Conservation states, “It can be difficult to distinguish mammoth ivory from elephant ivory without specialized training and analysis. In addition, articles fashioned from elephant ivory can be altered to resemble mammoth ivory. Effective enforcement efforts require that elephant ivory and mammoth ivory be treated identically.” In early 2019, scientists specializing in wildlife forensics reported a finding of mammoth ivory in an illegal ivory shipment in Cambodia.

What would this legislation do?

This bill would NOT criminalize the possession of ivory and rhino horn currently owned by Massachusetts residents nor would it prohibit inheritance or noncommercial gifts.

In the Headlines

These bills are supported by:

More Information


State Senators:

Name District/Address
Jason M. Lewis Fifth Middlesex
Michael J. Barrett Third Middlesex
Patricia D. Jehlen Second Middlesex
Bruce E. Tarr First Essex and Middlesex
Paul W. Mark Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin and Hampshire
Edward J. Kennedy First Middlesex

State Representatives:

Name District/Address
Jack Patrick Lewis 7th Middlesex
Brian M. Ashe 2nd Hampden
Vanna Howard 17th Middlesex
Jennifer Balinsky Armini
8th Essex
Kristin E. Kassner 2nd Essex
Tommy Vitolo 15th Norfolk

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