S. 496: An Act relative to ivory and rhinoceros horn trafficking
MSPCA Position: Support
Sponsors: Senator Jason Lewis, Representative Lori Ehrlich
Status: Released favorably from the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on January 13, 2020. Referred to Senate Committee on Ways & Means.
Summary: This bill will ensure that Massachusetts no longer contributes to the unprecedented global poaching crisis of elephant ivory and rhino horn. By restricting the sale, trade, and distribution of these products within our state, we will be closing a loophole in federal regulations, which, while already limiting this trade, do not apply to intrastate trade. Massachusetts plays a significant role in the illegal ivory and rhino horn markets, and it is time for our state to do its part, along with the 10 other states that have already passed similar legislation, to save elephants and rhinos from extinction. Learn more on the Ivory Free Massachusetts webpage.
Why is this bill needed?
Wildlife trafficking is an escalating global crisis.
- The wildlife trafficking trade has doubled since 2007 and tripled since 1998 and it is fueled in part by the U.S. ivory market, which is among the top global markets.
- Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory—an average of one every 15 minutes.
- Scientists predict that at current poaching rates, African forest elephants will be extinct within a decade. The risk posed to this subspecies of elephant is especially concerning because of the vital role they play in promoting forest growth, which helps fight climate change.
- All five rhino species are threatened with extinction; only 28,000 remain worldwide. Black rhinos have experienced a 96% population decline since 1970, with fewer than 4,800 members of the species remaining today.
- Elephant and rhino poaching is a brutal and bloody practice. Animals are chased with helicopters and shot down with military-grade weapons. Tusks and horns are harvested by cutting off the faces of the sometimes still-living animals. Babies are often killed for their tiny stubble of tusk or horn.
Massachusetts is a major contributor to the illegal ivory trade.
- A 2015 investigation ranked Boston fourth in the country for sales of ivory advertised on Craigslist, and a 2017 investigation found ivory items of dubious origins readily available for sale across the Commonwealth, with some vendors even offering smuggling tips.
- In 2015, a business owner in Concord, MA pleaded guilty to smuggling ivory products from the U.S. to China, with the value of the shipped goods exceeding $700,000.
- In 2010, a popular Nantucket scrimshander was convicted on multiple felony counts of participating in an international conspiracy to smuggle elephant ivory into the United States.
- Federal data shows that between 2010 and 2014, an average of 37 pieces of ivory were seized or refused each year in the port of Boston, totaling a market value ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- Read a Boston Globe article to learn more about our state’s role in this illicit market.
Poaching is a national security issue.
- Wildlife trafficking is among the top 5 criminal markets worldwide alongside narcotics, weapons, human trafficking, and counterfeiting.
- Extremist groups and terrorist organizations are often involved in wildlife trafficking, using it to finance their military operations.
What would this bill do?
Bring Massachusetts commerce laws in line with federal commerce regulations.
- In 2016, the U.S. enacted a near-total ban on commercial ivory trade. However, the ban only applies to interstate commerce and doesn’t regulate trade within a state, leaving the Massachusetts market open and largely unregulated, effectively serving as a loophole to the federal law.
- This bill strengthens state-level protections by largely mirroring the federal law and applying the federal standard to intrastate trade in Massachusetts. For example, the bill restricts trade of most ivory products but includes exemptions for legally acquired products containing less than 200 grams of ivory, legally acquired antiques over 100 years old, and musical instruments containing less than 200 grams of ivory.
- This bill also imposes heavy fines on traffickers and orders the seizure of all illegal ivory and rhino horn products upon conviction.
Bring Massachusetts in line with other entities that have already passed laws to help save elephants and rhinos from extinction.
- The United Kingdom, the largest exporter of legal ivory, will enact an extremely strict ivory ban in late 2019.
- China, a major ivory market, instituted a nationwide ban on the ivory trade in 2018.
- Ten other states in the U.S. and Washington D. C. have passed laws similar to the proposed bill: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington state.
- It is incumbent upon Massachusetts, home to a major port city and a significant contributor to the poaching crisis, to join these other leaders in fighting wildlife trafficking.
Establish the Endangered Elephant and Rhino Conservation and Education Fund.
- Penalties assessed under the new law will contribute to this Fund, which will promote conservation and education and outreach programs related to these species.
- The Fund will also provide financial rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of wildlife traffickers.
This bill would NOT criminalize the possession of ivory that is currently owned by Massachusetts residents NOR would it prohibit the inheritance or noncommercial gifting of ivory.
In the news:
- The Boston Globe, Franklin Park Zoo showcases activism and artistry, October 5, 2019
- WBZ NewsRadio 1030, Zoo New England Event Aims To Combat Ivory Poaching, October 5, 2019
- Gloucester Daily Times, Bill would crack down on large, local ivory market, September 10, 2019
- ABC News, Undocumented elephant ivory trade ‘thriving’ in Massachusetts: Humane Society, September 9, 2019
- NPR, Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ Sentenced To 15 Years In Jail In Tanzania, February 19, 2019
- The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Sees Brisk Trade in Illicit Ivory, June 27, 2015
- The Daily Item, Ehrlich, Clinton discuss the Elephant in the Room, April 17, 2015
- National Geographic, Citizens Spur States to Ban in Ivory and Rhino Horn, April 6, 2015
- Visit the Ivory Free Massachusetts webpage
The bill is supported by: