Elephants DC, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and Pennsylvania state lawmakers are working on a bipartisan effort to ban ivory sales in the Keystone State — and they need your support.
In the spring of 2015, Elephants DC’s vice president Ann Lewis met with Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Vereb (R — Montgomery County) to discuss a potential ban on ivory in her home state of Pennsylvania.
While the federal government has called for tighter restrictions on import, export, and interstate ivory sales, it is up to states to regulate their own domestic markets. Unfortunately, the ivory trade is alive and well in Pennsylvania, as evidenced by the high-profile arrest and prosecution of Victor Gordon in 2012. In 2014, Gordon was sentenced to 30 months in a U.S. prison for smuggling and selling millions of dollars worth of illegal ivory through his Philadelphia storefront.
“Following New Jersey, New York, Washington, and California, I am hopeful the Keystone State will take action in 2016 to help save the keystone species from extinction,” says Lewis. “One elephant is being killed every 15 minutes for its tusks — that’s close to 100 a day. At this alarming rate, elephants face extinction within a decade.”
“The stories of how tusks are removed from live elephants and sold on the black market really shook me,” Vereb says. “I was chilled by some of the stories.”
Vereb agreed to draft and sponsor House Bill 1537 — a statewide measure that seeks to criminalize the certain sale, import, purchase, trade, or possession of ivory or rhinoceros horn.
Elephants DC and HSUS joined forces to help push the measure forward in the Pennsylvania state legislature. “Elephants are known as a keystone species because they play a crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions,” says Kristen Tullo, Pennsylvania state director of HSUS. “Pennsylvania’s nickname is the Keystone State because it was the middle colony of the original 13 colonies, holding a key place in the history of the United States. Pennsylvania and elephants are the wedges that lock other states and species in place.”
“Elephants DC in tandem with HSUS have done a remarkable job in providing information to us — including about activities in other states,” adds Vereb.
The groups’ joint efforts paid off.
Pennsylvania State Representative Madeleine Dean (D — Montgomery County) became the lead co-sponsor of the measure. Dean was largely encouraged by her brother, Bob — a passionate advocate for the protection of elephants — to take on this cause.
“On so many fronts, the ivory trade is a terrible thing going on in our planet,” says Dean.
Lewis concurs: “Not only do we face losing a species to extinction, but the illegal trade funds terrorist groups. So this is also a matter of security.”
An additional 30 House Democrats and Republicans have since signed on as co-sponsors of the measure.
While support appears to be growing across the legislature, the biggest challenge the measure has faced has been simply getting heard in the appropriate committee. After Vereb and Dean introduced the measure in November 2015, it sat in the Consumer Affairs Committee, and in late December, it was re-referred to the Game and Fisheries Committee. On January 27, 2016, the measure was re-directed to the Judiciary Committee.
“We will do what it takes to get this bill moving,” Vereb says.
But Pennsylvania lawmakers need help from their constituents.
“We need Pennsylvania residents to take action and reach out to their state representative,” says Lewis. “The more letters of support and phone calls they get from their constituents, the better.”
Lewis adds that this is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue: “This is a human issue, and now is the time to do what’s right for future generations and ban ivory sales before these beautiful, social, smart, compassionate animals drift away forever.”
How You Can Help the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Become Ivory-Free
If you are a Pennsylvania resident, here are some steps you can take now to help ensure that HB1537 becomes law:
- Call or email your state representative and ask them to support HB1537. Click here to find your legislator.
- Contact the Pennsylvania House’s Judiciary Committee members here to ask them to pass HB1537 out of committee.
- Reach out to organizations and businesses in your community and ask them to write letters of support for HB1537.
- Never buy or sell ivory.
- Follow Elephants DC on Twitter and Facebook to learn about calls to action in your home state.
You are the key to getting HB1537 passed in the Keystone State!
Elephants DC extends special thanks to writer Stephanie Bento for her work on this article.