HUFFINGTON POST
09/02/2015 05:06 pm ET Updated Sep 03, 2015

California Passes Sweeping Ban On Elephant Ivory, Rhino Horn

"This is the year of the elephant in California."
Carvings of elephants and other animals are shown inside a mammoth ivory tusk for sale in the window of a Chinatown shop in S
Credit: Eric Risberg/Associated Press
Carvings of elephants and other animals are shown inside a mammoth ivory tusk for sale in the window of a Chinatown shop in San Francisco on July 27, 2015.

The state of California has effectively banned the sale of nearly all ivory and rhinoceros products, in a sweeping measure aimed at curbing the slaughter of the animals.

The bill, CA-AB96, will "prohibit a person from purchasing, selling, offering for sale, possessing with intent to sell, or importing with intent to sell ivory or rhinoceros horn." Antiques containing 5 percent ivory or less and antique musical instruments containing 20 percent ivory or less (often vintage pianos), will be exempt from the measure.

The bill still needs to go back to the assembly, where it has already passed, after minor amendments were made. It will then head to the governor's desk.

"We are seeing a poaching crisis that has the potential to impact an entire species of elephants and rhinos," Toni Atkins, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. "We are one step closer to taking decisive action to prevent the harmful and illegal act of poaching to protect conservation efforts and help protect these delicate creatures."

A legal trade of elephant parts imported before 1977 had been allowed in California. But many merchants flouted those rules, artificially aging the appearance of new items and selling them anyways. 

The practice is particularly common in California, where San Francisco and Los Angeles trail only New York City in ivory imports, a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found last year. The U.S. is the second biggest ivory market after China.

The trade in ivory and rhino horn has skyrocketed in recent years due to increased demand from a rising middle and upper class in some Asian countries, particularly China. The price of raw ivory tripled between 2010 and 2014, and now fetches up to $2,100 a kilogram, according to Save the Elephants. Rhino horn often sells for up to $65,000 a kilo, more than its weight in gold.

The move has been lauded by animal conservation groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, who backed the legislation and praised the "landmark bills."

"This is the year of the elephant in California," Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement. "If Governor Brown signs them, California will be the first state on the Pacific coast to crack down so meaningfully on the trade in ivory."

The governor's office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel notes the measure has drawn sharp criticism from hunting groups, including the NRA, which has not responded to a Huffington Post request for comment. Other ivory traders told the outlet the bill would be "unfair," and the state should compensate them for any merchandise that could become illegal.

Godfrey "Jeff" Harris, an ivory collector and the managing director of the Ivory Education Institute in Los Angeles, also objected to the bill, warning that it will create a high-price black market for ivory goods.

"Californians should be allowed to keep and benefit from those historic, artistic, practical, decorative and scientific ivory items they bought legally and in good faith years ago," Harris wrote in an email to HuffPost. "Making potential criminals of law-abiding Californians who have done nothing wrong and have committed no act against the health, welfare, or safety of their fellow citizens is the insane idea of the Humane Society of the United States. California should not be party to fostering the formation of a black market and repeating the errors of its governmental predecessors who voted for Prohibition only to see alcohol consumption in the United States rise."

But WildAid director Peter Knights said in a statement the passage "brings California one step closer to closing loopholes that for decades have allowed illegal ivory sales to continue." His group estimates at least 33,000 elephants are killed every year for their tusks.

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