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Success! California Passes Anti-Ivory Bill

On Sunday, California Gov. Jerry Brown made history by signing into law AB 96, crucial legislation that if successfully enforced will shutter the ivory and rhino horn trade in the Golden State!

Though California has long restricted the ivory trade, carvings and other ivory products imported before 1977 have been legal to sell. As a result, the state’s ivory market has provided a cover for the laundering of ivory from recently poached elephants, as legal markets do in Hong Kong and other ivory trading hubs around the world.  

"With the passage of AB 96, California is leading by example in making the ivory and rhino horn trade a thing of the past," WildAid CEO Peter Knights said of Gov. Brown's signing of the bill, co-authored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Senator Ricardo Lara. "The new law will make enforcement a far easier matter and sends a clear signal to the rest of the world that ivory and rhino horn have no value here. We thank Governor Brown for his support and call on all US states to join California, New York and New Jersey in banning this destructive trade."

The effect of ambiguous laws on poaching is well documented. In 1989, when the ivory trade was partially legal, elephants were poached at the rate of 70,000 a year by some estimates. In response to a global outcry, the international ivory trade was banned, and many consumers bowed out. Ivory prices plummeted and poaching went down, not because of intensified anti-poaching activity, but due to diminished demand.

 

But the effort wasn't universal, and it wasn't sustained. In 2008, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allowed a one-off sale of ivory to China, a move that reignited the market there, fueled by the country's growing affluence. 

The US is widely considered to be the second-largest ivory market after China. A January report from the National Resources Defense Council found 1,250 ivory items for sale in California, primarily in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Investigators concluded that a vast majority of items for sale were likely illegal under outdated state law.

AB 96 will also bring penalties up to date with the greatly inflated profits from ivory sales, creating a significant deterrent that's more than just a cost of doing business. 

Gov. Brown’s signing of AB 96 comes less than two weeks after President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping committed to halting the US and Chinese domestic ivory markets. This announcement marked the first public commitment by President Xi to end ivory sales in China, and follows a pledge made by Chinese officials in May to phase out the domestic trade.