- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - An estimated 35,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year, according to Humane Society International. At that rate - about 100 elephant killings per day - African elephants could be extinct in less than two decades.

Those killings are driven by a high demand for ivory, and Hawaii - despite its relatively small population - is the third largest retailer of ivory in the nation, the group said.

Those statistics are behind a push in the Hawaii Legislature to ban the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horns in the state.

“As long as there’s demand for ivory, elephants will be egregiously killed for trinkets,” said Rosalyn Morrison, program associate for Born Free USA, an animal advocacy organization. “The majority of these elephants are coming clearly from Africa, but we can stop the demand from our side.”

The bill, HB 837, would ban buying, selling and importing with the intent to sell ivory and rhinoceros horns.

A federal law banned the import and sale of ivory from African elephants in 1990, but ivory can be bought and sold in the U.S. if it was harvested before that and other laws designed to protect endangered species were in place.

In a study of ivory markets nationwide, the Humane Society reported that 89 percent of the ivory found for sale in Hawaii lacked any documentation and was probably of illegal origin.

“We’re a tremendous market,” said Inga Gibson, Hawaii director of the Humane Society of the United States. “We had the highest number of pieces that were identified as likely new ivory. There are even occasions where they try to stain the ivory so it appears that it’s antique.”

Opponents don’t want a ban to affect the sale of antique jewelry, musical instruments and guns that contain ivory, they said.

“We’re particularly concerned that there’s no ability to reach benefit from small amounts of antique ivory available,” said Maxwell Cooper, representing the Hawaii Rifle Association.

Another testifier, Linda Lee, asked for an exemption for Ming’s Honolulu, a jewelry company that carved pieces from ivory during the 1940s. Many items made by the company are marked by an etching or stamp, she said.

“Some marks have been worn off, those will be considered illegal,” Lee suggested.

But adding exemptions makes enforcement difficult, said Carty Chang, acting chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“Whenever you start to exempt a particular item for some reason, it becomes a slippery slope … an outright ban is a lot more efficient,” Chang said.

Hawaii lawmakers advanced the bill in the House Committee on Water and Land Monday. They added an exemption for items such as jewelry with a specific mark and clarinets that may contain a small portion of ivory, and said that if the ban was passed, there would be a two-year delay before enforcement would begin.

“That way, it gives companies or individuals two years to get rid of jewelry they want before it becomes illegal,” said Rep. Ryan Yamane, chairman of the committee.

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