H 1275 and S 440 Ivory Ban is Meaningless Legislation
Rep Lori Ehrlich, H 1275
Sen. Jason Lewis, S 440
Previous posts on these two meaningless pieces of legislation.
The Massachusetts Ivory Ban Hearing October 21 (what was heard)
Massachusetts Proposed Ban on Ivory and Rhino Horns (its all about "feeling" proactive)
H 1275 and S 440 Ivory Ban while well intentioned, it's authors miss the problem entirely driven by false information while promoting what are becoming the next generation in "old wive's tales".
This is our fourth in a little series we've been doing on proposed legislation here in Massachusetts regarding Bills H 1275 and S 440, the ban on the sale of ALL objects composed of or partially made from Elephant Ivory or Rhinoceros horn. The purpose of the legislation is our state's way of attempting to stem the trade in ivory and rhino horn as a result of poaching in Africa.
This sweeping ban would not only include illegally imported ivory and rhino products but would also include all and any antiques containing in part or entirely made from the materials. This would include antique scrimshaw, 18th C. sterling silver tea sets with ivory insulators, 16th to 20th C ivory miniature paintings, antique picture frames, tea caddies, furniture escutcheons, China Trade Card cases from the early 1800's and tens of thousands of other objects, even musical instruments.
Let's all hope the Mass Legislature does the right thing and toss the H 1275 and S 440 Ivory Ban where they belong, right into the trash heap. Not one inch of them will achieve their stated goals or any part of it, the United States is no way an impact-full influence on the issue of ivory or rhino poaching. It's about Chinese demand and nothing else.
The November 17th 2015 Hearing on the H 1275 and S 440 Ivory Ban
Yesterday I attended and testified in opposition to both bills, as did a number of folks from the antiques industry as well a few museums. While listening to their testimony spoke it became clear to everyone present the "unintended consequences " of the legislation would be much more far reaching than perhaps the authors Rep Lori Erlrich and Sen. Jason Lewis had intended. It also became evident the intended goals of these two bills would be of no effect in curbing the illegal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horns based on the data surrounding this issue.
Rep Lori Ehrlich's testimony
Early on Rep. Ehrlich spoke obviously in support of the bill and ran down her list of reasons for writing the house side of the legislation. She cited a number of arguments for it's passage, they are all myths and or an epic failure in logic.
- The United States is the second largest elephant ivory market in the world and helps drive the demand which causes poaching. Currently 96 elephants a day are poached in Africa, passage of this law will reduce demand.
- The trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn fund terrorist groups.
- Dealers are voluntarily giving up on selling elephant ivory and rhino horns.
- Massachusetts/Boston is according to a "Craig's list survey the 4th largest ivory market in the United States"
- The sale of antique ivory is a vehicle for the sale of illegal ivory.
- "My door is always open for those who want to discuss this legislation further"
These are all very compelling arguments, sadly none of the arguments are accurate or actually truthful. One only need to look at the numbers and facts to understand why.
Why Rep Ehrlich's arguments in favor of H 1275 and S 440 Ivory Ban, are incorrect and will accomplish nothing
FAIL 1. The United States is second largest elephant ivory market in the world argument.
According to Rep. Ehrlich 96 elephants a day are poached, that's a lot of elephants, roughly 18,000 pounds a day of ivory or 6,570,000 pounds a year.
- However the amounts entering the US of those totals are virtually zero according to the US Fish and Wildlife Services own numbers. On June 5th 199o the New York Times published an article titled "U.S. Ivory Market Collapses After Import Ban" . This was one year after the total ban on the importation of elephant ivory was put in place.
- The claim of the ivory market collapse has been since validated by their own reports, they have done an excellent job. Since the total ban of 1989 US Fish and Wildlife have confiscated a total of roughly 13,000 pounds of ivory entering the United States illegally. Slightly more than 500 pounds a year, or roughly 2% of one day's worth of poaching at the current rate over 25 years.
- For the sake of argument lets assume US Fish and Wildlife only catch 5% of the amount being smuggled. Based on their own numbers and Rep Ehrlich's assertion of 96 elephants a day, the total of poached elephant ivory entering the US annually is around .15% or less than one quarter of one percent of those being slaughtered. In other words, 99.85% of poached ivory is going to China and staying there and not being sent to the USA.
- Were the ban to go into 100% effect across the entire USA, a reduction in demand this tiny would have no impact. Prices of Ivory in China are still escalating, new laws in the US wouldn't create a speed bump in demand.
- The chart reflects an estimate by Dr. Daniel Styles a noted environmentalist on the subject who in a report suggested the annual total entering the USA to be under 3,000 pounds annually or roughly by weight the equivalent of 10 pairs of tusks. (enlarge by clicking on the image if you cannot see the USA's portion of the chart)
FAIL 2. Illegal Ivory Trade is funding terrorist groups.
This is of course an alarming thing to hear, after all no sane person wants to fund terrorists who are killing elephants to make money. Happily this story is untrue. The initial claim was based on a 2012 article by the Elephant League, titled "Africa’s White Gold of Jihad: al-Shabaab and Conflict Ivory" and later repeated in Vanity Fair as well as a few other publications. The narrative was further driven following comments by John Kerry as well as the "UN Office on Drugs and Crime". In particular Al-Shabaab, al Qaeda and ISIS' potential involvement have been cited as actively poaching to raise money to fund terrorism. The story was like all bad stories based on misinformation and has been debunked. However the claim fit neatly into the narrative in the fight against poaching as just another reason to pass legislation.
- On October 29, 2015 the New York Times published a piece titled "The Ivory Funded Terrorism Myth" based on a study researched by the 175 year old British think tank RUSI.org or the Royal United Services Institute. These folks work for foreign governments on issues regarding defense and national security issues. So naturally they were compelled to look into these claims. Their extensive report is by far the most thorough examination of the terrorist and elephant ivory connection. The conclusion was the killing of elephants and rhinos is not being driven by Al-Shabaab, ISIS, al-Qaeda, but by for profit criminal gangs aided by corrupt Government officials in Africa. To read the article "An Illusion of Complicity: Terrorism and the Illegal Ivory Trade in East Africa" The New York Time pieces concluded "Yet there’s no credible evidence that international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or the Islamic State are involved."
FAIL 3. Antique dealers are voluntarily giving up on selling antique elephant ivory and rhino horn products or objects with any partial content made from these materials.
According to Rep Ehrlich antique dealers are voluntarily giving up selling in the future any antiques with ivory or rhino horn content. She then cited the Essex, Mass antiques shop of Alexander Westerhoff Antiques as being among them, so far they are the only ones we've heard have of who have taken the pledge.
- I know Alex Westerhoff and his partner Tom Lange, they are nice guys. The problem is, their pledge, however well meaning is largely a totally empty gesture. Westerhoff Antiques' primary business in the trade is and has always been dining room tables, chairs, chests, mirrors, chandeliers and porcelains. Discontinuing the sale of ivory and rhino items is rather like a car dealership promising to give up the sale of tractor trailer trucks which they rarely if ever sold to begin with.
FAIL 4. Massachusetts/Boston is according to a "Craig's list survey the 4th largest ivory market in the United States"
The flaws and assumptions in the methodology of this overly touted study are almost to many to mention.
- First, no kidding! There is and always has been a lot of ivory in Boston, Massachusetts and throughout New England. Starting with the China Trade in the 1700's right through the early 1970's millions of pieces of ivory both finished and unfinished have come into our region. I've handled hundreds of estates over the years and haven't seen one yet that didn't have a few pieces. Including earrings, bracelets, Japanese Netsukes, statues, card cases, tea sets, inlaid American furniture, picture frames etc...
- The people who did the study never actually saw or verified the pieces on Craig's List were actually real ivory. I say this as I have seen the stuff in the past claiming to be Ivory and it wasn't. Very often it was carved stag horns, cow bones, resin copies of Japanese figures and so forth. Most people think anything that's WHITE and made from organic looking material must be Ivory.
- They claimed none of the items being sold had any PROOF or documentation of age or when the item was acquired. The truth in the antiques business is 99% of all antiques and most personal property has with it no such accompanying documentation when being sold. The implication that it must be suspect is just ridiculous without these documents. Where are people suppose to get documents retroactively after the item has been banned? They find out what something is and how old it is by asking a knowledgeable dealer in antiques.
FAIL 5. The sale of antique ivory is a vehicle for the sale of illegal ivory.
According to US Fish and Wildlife they do not feel antique dealers are a problem. From my own experience as a dealer for over 30 years, I would agree.
- According to the US and Wildlife Service's own publications, they said "Since announcing our intentions to remove or revise the 4(d) rule, we have received input from the public, including musicians and musical instrument manufacturers, museums, antique dealers, and others who may be impacted by these proposed changes. Having considered relevant information provided by these groups, in this proposed rule we would allow for continued commercialization of African elephant ivory in interstate and foreign commerce that is not contributing to the poaching of elephants and where we believe the risk of illegal trade is low."
"My door is always open for those who want to discuss this legislation further"
- I've called Rep. Ehrlich's office twice and emailed her "to discuss this legislation further", so far not a reply of any kind...this and her other comments are at least consistent, all untrue.
There are many other myths and arguments based on silliness being pushed to pass the H 1275 and S 440 Ivory Ban, the above however are the most common.
China IS the sole driver of demand for these items as they are legally bought, sold, carved and owned there, including Hong Kong. This trade is further being enabled by corrupt governments and criminal gangs in Africa. The sooner we understand this reality and realize nothing we do here will impact whats happening in Africa and China, the sooner it will be solved. Not everything in this world is driven by what we do in America.