But the most vulnerable to both moral arguments and certainly sanctions, are the ivory buyers. That's where the buck must stop. With no market, meaning no money, the middle men and terrorists, or any others who are poaching for cash, would have to seek greener pastures.
Consider also, that the bulk of consumers who are sustaining the market for ivory, in contrast to their perverse thirst to possess ivory trinkets for whatever reasons, are otherwise ordinary citizens. Sanctions for these buyers, such as having their names publicly exposed, as well as steep fines, and even token prison terms might work. Whether a sentence was for a day, a month, or years, how many would be willing to risk reputation, employment, or a prison record for trinkets?
Governments are increasingly embracing this approach. In 2012 a Philadelphia dealer in African art was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $150,000 for smuggling in more than a ton of African ivory. In a get-tough initiative in 2013 China handed out 3-15 year prison sentences to at least twenty individuals involved in the illegal ivory market. And in 2014 a Chinese antiques dealer was given a seventy month prison sentence for smuggling rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory artifacts into China from the U.S. In its boldest action China sentenced 37 ivory smugglers to life terms.
Back in the U.S., new federal rules, more restrictive than the 1989 prohibitions, went into effect in June 2014. According to the New York Times, these new rules " ban Americans from importing and, with narrow exceptions, exporting any item that contains even a sliver of ivory. The rules do not ban private ownership, but they outlaw interstate sales of ivory items, unless they meet what sellers describe as impossible criteria." Items like a century-old Steinway piano with ivory keys will be blocked from interstate sales "unless the owner could prove the ivory in the keys had entered the country through one of 13 American ports authorized to sanction ivory goods."
Even tougher standards have been put on the books in several states. A New York State bill signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on World Elephant day, August 12, 2014, bans the sale of ivory with few exceptions. Stringent proof will be required for allowing the sale of ivory that is one hundred years old or older. According to one commentary, this is "a difficult standard that excludes almost all ivory objects, including antique American objects from sale." Since the United States -- and New York in particular -- is the second largest market for ivory after China the new legislation, which also strengthens civil and criminal penalties, is a significant direct assault on the ivory market. Connecticut lawmakers are currently considering a bill to ban the import, sale, and purchase of ivory or rhinoceros horns -- and would make the crime a class B misdemeanor calling for up to six months in prison, a fine, or both.
These actions are encouraging. Hopefully, similar statutes will spread to all the states backed by diligent enforcement that will turn the tide.
I must admit that I had reservations about publishing this article -- and not because of doubts about the expressed position. The men and women who have backed ivory crushes are passionate tireless workers in the front lines fighting selflessly to protect elephants, other species, and insure sustainable life on our planet. Their efforts should be respected and honored.
Nevertheless, I concluded that this critical moment, in the race to stem elephant extinction, demands the concentration of time, energy, and resources on actions that are most likely to achieve positive results. Toward that end an open public debate is warranted.
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