Bill eyes crackdown on large, local ivory market

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STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE, BOSTON—Sales of ivory and rhinoceros horn between Massachusetts residents, technically legal thanks to a gap in state law, will contribute to rapidly declining animal populations if left unaddressed, lawmakers and supporters of legislation said Tuesday.


A bill filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich (H 772) and Sen. Jason Lewis (S 496) takes aim at the practice, banning almost every intrastate transaction involving the substances in a way that mirrors federal limits on interstate sales.

Ehrlich told the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Tuesday that a robust market in Massachusetts props up a global black market, perpetuating the demand behind the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of elephants and rhinoceri.

“If we do not make a change, several species of elephant will be extinct in the wild in the next few decades,” Ehrlich said. “Our children and grandchildren may soon look at elephants the way we look at dinosaurs: as creatures so unimaginable, it sometimes feels as though they never existed.”

There has been an international ban on trafficking ivory and rhinoceros horn since the 1990s, and the Obama administration outlawed the sale of ivory across state lines in 2016.

But that policy did not apply to transactions within states, and only 10 other states have passed explicit language outlawing the swap of the substances — often harvested from animals killed by poachers and then trafficked — between residents, according to supporters of Ehrlich’s bill.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that the legal U.S. ivory market serves largely to cover for the illegal ivory trade,” said Elizabeth Magner, an animal advocacy specialist with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “The U.S. is one of the top ivory markets in the world, and Massachusetts plays a substantial role in that market.”

Ehrlich and speakers from animal-welfare groups said the Boston-Cambridge region is the seventh-largest market for ivory in the country, with the city fourth in the size of its Craigslist-specific market.

The Humane Society of the United States, a nonprofit advocacy group, said last week it conducted an “undercover investigation” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s antique show in May and found elephant ivory items for sale by five different vendors who were unable to produce documentation proving they were not imported recently in violation of federal law.

“For the future of these iconic species and the role they play in healthy ecosystems, it’s imperative that we take action to protect their continued survival,” said Brooke Wardrop, a spokeswoman for Zoo New England.

Similar bills were filed and failed to pass during each of the two previous lawmaking sessions. The Senate passed the legislation last summer, but it never came up for a vote in the House.

The current bills have more than 100 cosponsors, representing a majority of the Legislature.

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