A bucket full of canes with ivory handles. A pile of bangle bracelets. Scores of carvings — some decadent, some crude. These are just a few of the ivory products that have been up for sale in Maryland in the last year, according to elephant advocate Heidi Osterman.
The story of how these items came to be sold in Maryland is a long and bloody one. And as long as they continue to be commercially traded, there’s only one ending: the extinction of elephants.
Elephants are now being slaughtered for their tusks faster than they’re being born. These gentle animals face extinction in less than 10 years — all for mere bracelets and trinkets. According to INTERPOL and other experts, more than 35,000 elephants are poached annually in Africa.
That’s why lawmakers and advocates are stepping up to speak up for elephants and other endangered species in Maryland. On Wednesday, February 17, the Maryland state House Environment and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on HB 542, the Wildlife Trafficking Prevention bill, which will seriously restrict the ivory trade in Maryland, along with protecting other species. The hearing will take place at 1 p.m. at the House Office Building in Annapolis, MD.
Read on for more information about the measure and how you can support it.
Why Maryland Needs to Step Up Against Wildlife Trafficking
Introduced by Delegate Eric Luedtke, the Wildlife Trafficking Prevention bill proposes to ban the sale of most products derived from endangered species, including elephants, rhinos, lions and sea turtles. It’s a huge and important step to getting ivory off of Maryland’s shelves and out of Maryland’s ports for good.
Unfortunately, ivory is still widely for sale across Maryland, even though elephants are at risk of soon disappearing from our earth. The Baltimore Antiques Show alone is a hub for countless pieces of ivory to be bought and sold in Maryland — and much of it is currently considered legal.
In reality, the legal sale of “antique” ivory is a common and deadly loophole that allows ivory from freshly killed elephants to enter Maryland — and our nation’s — markets. Smugglers often, and easily, disguise and manipulate elephant tusks to make them appear “antique.” And wildlife trafficking experts agree that it can be very difficult and expensive to distinguish between “fresh” and “antique” ivory.
In fact, without regulation, nothing is in place to stop wildlife traffickers — turning a $19 billion profit annually — from taking advantage of Maryland citizens who are unaware that they are purchasing ivory from recently slaughtered elephants. Moreover, the United States government has identified the the ivory trade as a key source of revenue for terrorist organizations, including al-Shabaab, the Lord Resistance Army, and Boko Haram, who slaughter elephants in exchange for weapons. Buying and selling ivory, even ivory that appears “antique,” may likely be funding horrific criminal activity.
Osterman, a longtime resident of Maryland, says action must be taken in the state to keep citizens safe, especially given that its largest city, Baltimore, has a long history as a major U.S. seaport. ”(The Port of Baltimore) is a certified endangered species port under the Endangered Species Act,” says Osterman. “This means that our Baltimore port is one of only 13 specific ports of entry in the U.S. where ‘antiques’ made from endangered and threatened species can be imported. Clearly, this makes Maryland susceptible to illegal wildlife trafficking because illegal animal parts are smuggled in with antiques.”
Maryland’s proposed measure follows a nationwide movement to ban ivory and rhino horn sales at the state level. In 2014, New Jersey and New York led the charge to save endangered species by restricting ivory and rhino horn sales. New Jersey became the first state to pass a comprehensive ivory ban. Since then California and Washington have also taken action.
Presently, action to regulate the unabated ivory trade is underway in Maryland’s bordering states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Additionally, the citizen-led movement to ban ivory sales continues in Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois, Hawaii, and elsewhere.
Action to shut down wildlife trafficking in Maryland is particularly important given the Mid-Atlantic state’s abundant waterways and coastlines on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. “Now that the New York and New Jersey ports are closed, it is very probable that the Port of Baltimore has become the ‘go to’ port for illegal wildlife trafficking,” Osterman warns. Given the strong ties between wildlife trafficking and other illegal activity — including terrorism, human trafficking, and gun smuggling — it is vital that Maryland take action to secure its ports.
“It is time for Maryland to close all loopholes for any and all potential wildlife trafficking in our our state,” says Jennie Ray, a Maryland resident and advocate with the elephant welfare nonprofit Elephants DC. “Maryland must set an example for other states that refuse to stand up against international terrorist organizations.”
Why Marylanders Should Shout Out Their Support For This Measure (and Here’s How)
It’s critical that Marylanders speak out to their legislators to support this measure. As an in-depth Deadspin report showed last year, efforts to ban ivory sales face some powerful opponents, including wealthy antique traders who have joined forces with the NRA. In 2015, these naysayers were able to defeat the citizen-led effort to ban ivory and rhino horn sales in Maryland.
“One of the reasons the state bill to ban elephant ivory failed last year was because not enough people voiced their opinion,” says Osterman. “It wasn’t because most people think it’s ok to sell ivory in Maryland. Who doesn’t like elephants?”
Osterman, Ray, and other Maryland advocates urge state residents to contact their representatives and voice their support to end ivory and rhino horn sales. Concerned citizens may also attend the hearing on Wednesday, February 17 in Annapolis, MD.
We can’t let the loud voices of a few ivory lovers win. As long as ivory is for sale in Maryland, the state will be playing a role in the extinction of elephants, with only a handful of trinkets to show for it. Ivory may once have been a coveted substance, but now it only symbolizes death, greed, and extinction.
“Objects carved in the shape of elephants will never compare to elephants. They will never have value over elephants,” says Jen Samuel, president and founder of Elephants DC. “The unspoken truth is ivory is not art. Art creates. Art uplifts. Art does not destroy one of the earth’s most beloved animals for greed’s sake.”
If you live in Maryland, look up your elected representative and make a quick phone call or send an email telling them you support HB 542. Tell them you support a future world where elephants, rhinos, lions, and other endangered species still thrive. Tell them you support a Maryland that does the right thing, at a time when elephants need it the most.
Marylanders, it is up to you to make sure your state will no longer play a role in wildlife trafficking. Take action now!