As author and Nat Geo contributor Laurel Neme writes this week, even sensemaking legislation aimed at saving imperiled wildlife by restricting the elephant ivory and rhino horn trade in the United States can fall victim to political reality.
Following successful efforts last year to effectively ban ivory and rhino horn commercial sales in New York and New Jersey — as well as new federal rules tightening the ivory trade — lawmakers across the country have proposed similar legislation for their respective states. Some bills are moving through the legislative process; others have been diluted or effectively killed, in part by well-funded opposition from the gun lobby.
States such as California are seeking to close loopholes to existing ivory laws that have made it impossible to effectively enforce what’s already on the books.
Under current California law, ivory imported into the state prior to 1977 can be sold legally. But criminals have long exploited the legal market to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants. According to a January report by the National Resources Defense Council, as much as 90% of ivory found in Los Angeles and San Francisco markets was illegal.
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