Sometimes, the task of saving elephants from certain extinction can seem intimidating (to put it mildly). There’s a powerful and wide-reaching network of criminals bent on poaching elephants to bankroll their terrible deeds. There are consumers who don’t yet realize that the ivory they buy could be illegally obtained, or that elephants could become extinct in the wild in 10 years for a few trinkets. And there are the repercussions from weak laws and shady policies that have made smuggling and selling ivory from poached elephants easier now than it’s been in decades.
At Elephants DC, we know very well how daunting that can feel. But just remember that for every daunting task, there are heroes who stand and face them. Across the world, every day, new people rise up and add their voices to the causes we care about.
Elephants need all the heroes they can get these days, after all. And we’re thrilled to say that, this month, they’ve just gained another one — this time in the state of New Jersey.
His name? New Jersey State Senator Raymond J Lesniak.
How New Jersey Is Standing Strong Against the Illegal Ivory Trade
If you haven’t heard, New Jersey is a pretty exciting place right now in the world of elephant conservation. Earlier this month, both the New Jersey State Senate and the State Assembly introduced new legislation to wholly ban the trade of ivory products in the state (with only limited exceptions for inheritance and federally permitted traffic). The New Jersey bill couldn’t have come at a better time, too. With similar legislation in Hawaii and New York temporarily stalled, it’s more crucial than ever that someone take a stand for protecting elephants — now, while there are still elephants left.
Senator Ray Lesniak answered that challenge by drafting and sponsoring the bill in the State Senate. And, we’re thrilled to say, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji proposed a counterpart bill shortly after in the State Assembly. So far, the prospects are very good — both bills have soared through their first committees and will be up for larger votes in the coming weeks.
We couldn’t be prouder that Elephants DC president and founder Jen Samuel has been on the front line of this effort, testifying in support of this legislation in conjunction with fantastic representatives from the Humane Society International, Humane Society of New Jersey and Born Free USA. As Jen says, “Close to 100 elephants are killed every day in Africa for their tusks to feed the global ivory market. This bill will send clear message to ivory buyers, smugglers and poachers that the brutal trade will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”
Meet the Senator Who’s at the Head of the HerdLast week, Elephants DC had the pleasure of interviewing Senator Lesniak himself about his bill and about how people can help him advance this important legislation for the elephants. As a long-time advocate for animal rights in the state, the Senator adds to his already impressive record of standing up against injustices and positioning New Jersey as a leader in some of the most vital issues faced today.
Below, the Senator explains why this is a crucial time for elephants, and why it is quintessential to their very survival that New Jersey in particular take up the lead on ivory regulation.
Q: What got you interested in this issue of ivory and what made you decide to act on it by sponsoring this bill?
Senator Lesniak: I’ve been involved in many animal rights issues in the past. So this was a natural progression for me to sponsor this legislation. Particularly because New Jersey is really at the hub of the illegal ivory trade, being one of the biggest ports in the world. And I represent the Port Newark-Elizabeth district, which is one of the largest port of entries of illegal ivory. Illegal ivory threatens the very existence of elephants on the face of the earth. If we get this through and sign it into law, we know it will be an inspiration to other states, Congress, and indeed other countries in the world to follow our lead.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the bill will benefit the people of New Jersey and elsewhere?
Senator Lesniak: The illegal trade in ivory products for which Port Newark-Elizabeth is a major factor also contributes to organized crime, not only throughout the world but also here in the state of New Jersey. Also, we don’t exist as a state in isolation. We’re part of a worldwide population that’s concerned not only about animal rights but also what this illegal trade has done in terms of fueling organized crime, drug smuggling and gun running — which has a tremendous impact on society as a whole. We’re all creatures of God, and we need to recognize that, and treat all animals that way, and keep God’s creatures alive wherever they roam the earth and certainly not contribute to their extinction.
Q: What challenges do you think the bill might face and how can we help?
Senator Lesniak: I do think the biggest challenge is, ‘Why should New Jersey legislators care about this?’ This involves an education process by people who care about this issue (and there are many in the state who do). They should contact their legislators and say, ‘This is important. We care about elephants and their lives not being destroyed and being extinct. My children care about that. And we want you to care about that, and we want you to support Senator Lesniak’s legislation.’ It’s as simple as that.
Q: What about people who might say, ‘Isn’t ivory already illegal?’ How is this bill different from what’s already in place?
Senator Lesniak: Although the sale of some ivory products from Asia and Africa was made illegal by the federal government decades ago, a plethora of exemptions create loopholes that really make those bans fully ineffective. They’re easily exploited and have not really slowed down the trade in ivory products. This bill is basically a total ban. In that way we really close down the loopholes which allow the trade in ivory products to go on unabated and result in thousands of elephants dying every year. I believe the exact number is 35,000, which is terrifying. And again, I also want to go back to the fact that it’s a money maker for organized crime, which uses those proceeds for drug money and gun running and causes additional pain and suffering throughout the world.
Q: Once we get this bill passed, what’s the next step?
Senator Lesniak: The most significant thing we can do is promote other states and the federal government to follow our lead. After we pass this in New Jersey, we have to focus on New York, because that’s another fertile ground for illegal ivory trade that we have to clamp down on. We’re going to need all the help we can get to make a statement to the world and lead this effort to, quite frankly, prevent elephants and other mammals from being extinct and no longer seen on the face of the earth. That would be a tragedy.
How You Can Help Be a Hero, Too
It’s beyond wonderful for the elephants that there are leaders like Senator Lesniak willing to speak up for them. But your voice is important, too. Elephant advocates such as Senator Lesniak and Assemblyman Mukherji are up against a powerful lobbying force that includes some auction houses, NRA leadership and others who profit from the ivory trade.
And they’re also just up against a generally uninformed public who don’t yet realize the crisis elephants face or don’t understand why passing legislation like this here at home matters. Like the Senator said, there are many people who care about these issues, and there are many others who would care if they knew about it. So, education is key! That’s why they — and we — need your help.
Here are a few things you can do today to help pass this bill in New Jersey and support an end to the illegal ivory trade:
- Send an email or Facebook note to Senator Lesniak to thank him for his awesome support of this important legislation.
- Join our Jersey Strong for Elephants Facebook event page to stay updated of key votes and important opportunities to contact and thank lawmakers for their support.
- Tell everyone you know in New Jersey why this bill is important and why they should ask their legislators to support it!