Victory! Court says New York’s ban on ivory, rhino horn sales will stay

Mar 9, 2021 | Commentary

By Kitty Block – The Humane Society of the United States

A federal court in New York has rejected a challenge by trade groups to the state’s landmark ban on elephant ivory and rhino horn sales. The ruling is not just a win for these beleaguered animals, whose numbers in the wild are dropping at an alarming rate, it also affirms the right of states like New York to create laws that protect wildlife and end their own participation in such cruelty.

The challenge was brought by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America and the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, who argued that the ban was unconstitutional. The court, in its ruling, noted that New York’s prohibition on displaying certain ivory objects not legal for sale in the state “serves New York’s interest of halting the illegal sale of ivory within its borders” and that it is narrowly tailored to that interest because it “reduces the opportunity for, and temptation to engage in, a quick illegal sale.”

The Humane Society of the United States, along with our allies, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Wildlife Conservation Society, intervened in the lawsuit in support of New York, to help defend the law.

New York’s ban, which became law in 2014, is particularly important if we are to end the global ivory trade in this nation. The state had always been one of the biggest destinations for ivory traffickers in the United States. Before the law went into effect, New York was home to the nation’s largest ivory market. In 2012, an investigation by state authorities led to the seizure of elephant ivory worth more than $2 million from jewelers based in New York City.

Ending ivory and rhino horn trafficking is critical if we are to ensure these beloved animals do not disappear from earth. Tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year in Africa. All five rhino species in the world are threatened with extinction and there are fewer than 29,000 rhinos left in the wild today in their natural habitats in Africa and Asia.

Elephants and rhinos not only die in large numbers for the ivory and rhino horn trade, they die in some of the cruelest ways imaginable. Poachers use assault weapons and poisoned arrows to kill the animal and hack off their faces for the ivory or the horns, sometimes when the animals are still alive. Even juvenile animals with small tusks or horns do not escape this gruesome fate. This is no way to treat these gentle giants who also face a multitude of other threats to their survival in their range countries, including climate change and habitat loss

The United States is one of the world’s largest markets for elephant ivory and rhino horn, and we need to do all we can to root this trade out here. If there are no markets left for such products, there is no incentive for poachers to continue to kill the animals. That’s why we have been working with states to pass laws ending such trade. New Jersey was the first state to ban ivory sales in 2014, followed by New York. Altogether, 12 states and Washington, D.C. have now passed laws or ballot measures banning ivory and other wildlife body parts, including California, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, New Hampshire, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico and Washington. There are now efforts in Massachusetts and Connecticut to pass similar laws.

New York lawmakers are also considering a bill that we support that would further strengthen the state’s ivory ban by increasing penalties for those who sell illegal ivory articles and rhino horns.

The win in New York last week affirms states’ rights to legislate to keep cruel and inhumane products out of their marketplaces, whether those products are eggs from cruelly confined hens, puppies from puppy mills or ivory trinkets. It also sets a promising precedent for other states that have passed or are considering similar laws ending ivory and rhino horn sales. A similar law was upheld by a California court in 2016, a case in which the same coalition of animal welfare groups, including the HSUS, intervened to successfully defend the law.

Let’s celebrate today even as we continue the fight to protect these animals from this ghastly trade.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

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