New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took a strong stand for elephants and rhinos this month by signing into law a ban on ivory and rhino horn trafficking in the state. New Jersey’s location and ports allow it to be a hub of ivory trading, making this decision even more important. This law is one of the first of its kind in the country, and sets penalties for importing, selling or purchasing any ivory or rhinoceros horn product. This law also serves to close loopholes in federal law that allow a great deal of ivory product to be disguised and traded as antique.
The total population of African elephants is estimated to be only 420,000, down from 1.2 million in 1980, with poaching incidents decreasing that number daily. Although China, where ivory prices have tripled since 2010, is the largest retail consumer of ivory, the United States comes in a close second. The best way that the United States can work to protect these species is by completely banning ivory and rhino horn sales. International efforts to work with Thailand, China, and others to close their ivory markets are also vital. Without change, extinction could be imminent. Many organizations on the ground in Africa are also working to protect these species through the use of anti-poaching units and by rehabilitating and releasing orphaned elephants and rhinos (dswt.org).
The importance of protecting elephants and other native African animals cannot be disputed. Not only have elephants been shown to be sentient and empathetic beings, they also have an important niche in their ecosystems. They play a vital role in regulating vegetation and use their large footprints, tusks and trunks to create pools that serve as sources of water for many other species. Non-consumptive wildlife tourism, such as photographic safaris, also brings a large and sustainable source of revenue to African communities. Studies show that a live wild elephant brings more revenue to a country in its lifetime than is made through its tusks or trophy hunting. This makes conserving rhinos, elephants, and other native animals even more important.
Not only is this historic law a win for these endangered species, it is also an important matter of national security as the ivory trade has been strongly linked to terrorist activity. On World Elephant Day August 12th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar, but less stringent, ban into law. The federal government is also seemingly taking action to protect elephants and rhinos, as they proposed new regulations earlier this year and reportedly may release stricter rules this summer. These are encouraging steps forward in the fight against poaching and wildlife trafficking.
Hopefully, states such as California, Florida, and Illinois with port areas and large populations will be the next to take strong and decisive action against the trade in ivory and rhino horn by enacting similar bans. This, along with steps taken by the federal government to eliminate the ivory trade could help prevent African elephants and rhinos from facing extinction in our lifetimes.
You can take action by asking President Obama to end the legal trade in all ivory.