Lawmakers are looking to impose a ban on the sale of elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and other wildlife parts in Hawaii as a response to issues of poaching. Two bills to this effect are currently being considered by the Hawaii state legislature.

The Hawaii House's HB 2502 "Prohibits the trafficking of protected animal species, with limited exceptions," while the Senate version of the bill, SB 2647, "Prohibits the sale, offer to sell, purchase, trade, possession with intent to sell, or barter of any part or product from various animal and marine species."

Both the House and Senate bills provide exemptions to the ban, including for the age of ivory and those that are used for traditional cultural practices protected under the Constitution of the State of Hawaii.

Elephants are at risk of becoming extinct because of rampant poaching for their ivory tusks. A study found that the number of elephants illegally killed increased dramatically from 25 percent to 65 percent. Estimates also show that every year, about 35,000 African elephants are killed by poachers for their ivory tusks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and President Barack Obama have previously proposed a ruling to protect African elephants by restraining the flourishing ivory trade in the United States. Unfortunately, some persistent lawmakers from the House of Representatives are against it, even passing HR2406, which blocks any attempt to plug the loopholes in ivory trading.

The bills are drawing mixed reactions from lawmakers as some maintain that the ban is too broad and could significantly affect those who are into ivory collection. Sen. Rosalyn Baker said that the bill could criminalize ivory art collections that have been part of Hawaii's history.

On the other hand, Sen. Mike Gabbard of Kapolei, who introduced the bill that bans the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn and shark, believes that the increasing awareness in poaching would push the bill into law.

The looming ban on ivory sale is posed to force legal merchants in Hawaii to close down their business for fear of being tagged as criminals.

A large part of Hawaii's population depends largely on ivory trading. Some merchants lament that getting the proper documentation to prove that an ivory is centuries-old is difficult as regulation of ivory trading only began in the 1970s.

A special agent for the FWS in Hawaii, Keith Swindle said that telling an ivory's age is tricky, specifically in small jewelries and carvings. Some merchants would even stain the poached ivory to make it appear as an antique to sell to tourists.

A recent undercover investigation done by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International (HIS) in Hawaii revealed that ivory merchants are duping tourists to buy illegally traded ivory. Traders even provide these tourists "tips" on how to smuggle the wildlife parts out of the country even without the necessary permits.

The undercover investigation also revealed that majority of sellers in Hawaii lack proper documentation to state whether the ivories were obtained legally.

"Hawaii is a major marketplace for the sale of illegal ivory with buyers and sellers directly contributing crisis of elephant poaching in Africa. Hawaii residents should demand a strong state law to shut down this pernicious trade that is damaging Hawaii's conservation reputation and legacy," HSUS Hawaii Director, Inga Gibson, said.

Photo: Ryan Somma | Flickr

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