By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Banning the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horns in Rhode Island seems reasonable enough. The animals don’t live in the state — except at the zoo — and certainly aren’t hunted here. Prohibiting the sale of their ivory and horns should, therefore, diminish any connection to the $8 billion to $10 billion global trade of these poached and illegally hunted animal parts.
Ivory, however, is common in antiques and collectables such as furniture, jewelry and, most importantly to opponents of any ban, guns. House bill H7184 is opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc. of Newtown, Conn., and an NRA-backed, pro-hunting trade group the Elephant Protection Association.
In submitted testimony, these lobbying firms say the bill harms “law-abiding gun owners.” The group Knife Rights claims a ban would hurt elderly Rhode Islanders who have invested in ivory goods for their retirement savings.
Elephants are native to Africa and Asia. Despite constant illegal hunting and poaching, “the threat to elephant populations in Africa is grossly exaggerated,” according to Knife Rights, which submitted extensive reports on elephants populations and maps of their habitat in Africa.
The deceptively named Elephant Protection Association says ban on ivory takes revenue away from highly regulated big-game hunting businesses that support sustaining trophy-animal populations and provide revenue for local businesses.
The Humane Society of the United States reports that as many as 30,000 African elephants are killed annually by ivory poachers. Forest and savanna species declined 30 percent and 65 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2014, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Seven states, including New Jersey and New York, have animal-trafficking bans. Massachusetts is considering a bill written after undercover investigations by The Boston Globe and Humane Society found active ivory and rhino horn sales across the state.
China, the largest buyer of ivory, banned sales in 2015. The United Kingdom and European Union are considering ivory bans. Most recently, Hong Kong banned all ivory sales.
The United States has a ban on imported ivory, and bans the sale of ivory between states. However, it excludes certain antiques, guns and musical instruments. Under the bill, owners of ivory and rhino products may donate them to individuals or a museum, but all other sales are prohibited.
Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson, D-Wariwck, said buyers are traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia to purchase these products then bring them to Rhode Island for resale.
“The only way we are going to address this continuous poaching, the mindless killing of these animals, to the tune of approximately 30 per day, is if we eliminate the demand. And the only way I can see to eliminate the demand for ivory and rhino tusk in the state of Rhode Island is to make the sale of it illegal,” she said.
The bill was questioned by Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond, and Rep. Blake Filippi, R-Block Island. Both said a ban would cause collectibles and antiques to lose their value. Vella-Wilkinson said such items could be sold in other states.
“My goal is to eliminate the demand for the sale of ivory,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “If they want to sell it, they can sell it, but not within the state of Rhode Island. Find another state that is not as adamant about protecting wildlife.”
The bill was held for further study.