Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Will Washington state join other states cracking down on ivory trade?

By Chris Davis (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-11-03 11:08

It never hurts to have a rich guy in your corner. For elephants, which are being slaughtered at the rate of 96 a day (or one every 15 minutes around the clock), that would be Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, one of the richest guys in the world.

Through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and direct gifts he has already given $10 million since 2008 to support key research, education and technology to boost anti-poaching efforts. Not to mention the $26 million he gave to Washington State University to found the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.

He funded the Great Elephant Census, a two-year air and land survey of Africa's savannah and bush elephants that turned up grim news - like Tanzania losing two-thirds of its elephant population in just four years.

He has funded research that led to DNA analysis of large busts of ivory and created a genetic map that led to two areas where "elephants are being killed on an industrial level", giving law enforcement a fighting chance at cornering the worst culprits.

Will Washington state join other states cracking down on ivory trade?

Why? "Because," as the foundation website says, "stopping demand alone won't solve the problem before it's too late."

Attacking the problem on yet another front, last April Allen donated $390,000 to start an initiative in the Washington legislature that would create new criminal penalties for the trafficking of body parts of any endangered species.

Aside from elephants and rhinoceros, those include tiger, leopard, cheetah, marine turtle, shark, ray and pangolin. Violators of the class C felony would face maximum penalties of five years in the slammer and a $10,000 fine.

Supporters of the measure, including the Humane Society of the United States and other conservation and zoological groups, got the 246,372 signatures required and it's on Tuesday's ballot as Initiative 1401.

California, New York and New Jersey have enacted wildlife trafficking legislation, but it applies mainly to ivory and rhino horn and is not as sweeping as I-1401. (Supporters of the cause in Oregon announced they are planning a measure similar to Allen's for the 2016 ballot, a move that wildlife advocates hope turns into a trend).

Critics of the measure say it will do little to reduce poaching as long as other countries and states continue to allow the sale of ivory products. But backers point to Oregon as evidence that I-1401 could catch fire.

If Washington and Oregon join California, the effect would be what Iris Ho, a program manager with Humane Society International, calls "a fire wall on the West Coast against the pernicious trade in products and parts from iconic and at-risk species."

More than 24 wildlife-trafficking bills were introduced in 19 states and the District of Columbia in 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most died.

"If the United States is going to be a leader in combating wildlife trafficking, then our laws and actions, from the federal level on down to the state level, must be as tough as our talk," the African Wildlife Foundation's Kathleen Garrigan told China Daily in an e-mail.

Like the Port of New York/New Jersey and California, Washington is home to one of the country's busiest ports and serves as a gateway for illegal wildlife products entering the US.

"Initiative 1401 sends a signal that Washington State is serious about stopping the flow of wildlife products and will deal heavily with anyone caught buying, selling or trading in endangered species in the state," Garrigan continued. "If Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and others do the same, there will be nowhere for these trafficked products to go."

J.A. Mills, wildlife conservationist and author of Blood of the Tiger: A Story of Conspiracy, Greed and the Battle of Save a Magnificent Species, told China Daily "while it's great model legislation, the only thing that will solve the problem is Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama taking formal bilateral global leadership on the matter as they have done with climate change and ivory."

Garrigan applauds Allen's 1401 measure for its broader reach. "While the elephant and rhino have been primarily responsible for bringing so many to the table on the wildlife trafficking issue, in fact a number of species declining rapidly as a result of the illegal wildlife trade and I-1401 acknowledges this."

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