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Several years ago, my wife and I enjoyed a photo safari in Tanzania. I took nearly 1,500 photos, mostly of animals on the Serengeti, and I periodically scroll through my photo files, marveling at the grandeur of Africa. By far, the most majestic and awe inspiring animals that we encountered were the elephants. We were fortunate to get up close and personal with the herds and — on one occasion — our vehicles were challenged by a huge bull who was not amused by our presence.
These wonderful creatures are being slaughtered because they carry a valuable commodity — ivory — which has always been in great demand. At one time, there was a huge population of African elephants, so their hunting was not necessarily the evil it is today. Fortunately, elephant ivory is no longer used for consumer items such as billiard balls, piano keys, jewelry, and other utilitarian objects. It may have an incidental use for musical instruments and the like but — as with animal fur — its use is no longer commonly accepted.
Whether the number of animals illegally killed each year is in the dozens or the thousands, poaching is a despicable act. Though laws are in place to control this criminal enterprise and punish offenders, the Chinese are not convinced and account for the overwhelming majority of demand for illegal ivory. So, U.S. authorities have decided to work backwards and pick on the uninformed, easily influenced, and easily controlled Americans citizens.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reasons we can save elephant lives by preventing — a handful of exceptions aside — the trade in all ivory items in this country, be it from elephants killed last week or over a thousand years ago. They reason that a person who buys a medieval ivory carving is threatening the existence of elephants in Africa. In a sham show of concern, they’ve publicly crushed tons of confiscated ivory without regard to its age, legality, or even — allegedly — if it was from African elephants at all. The net result of this theater has been to raise the black market price of ivory and to further encourage poaching.
The Administration decided that a more theatrical method of saving elephant lives would be to eliminate the trade in all ivory and turning honest citizens into felons. They are starting with a ban on all imports of ivory (previously legal with documentation) and the interstate sale of any product containing ivory. There is an exception for antiques, but the bar of proof is set at ridiculously high levels which makes it nearly impossible for the average person to comply.
Was there a vote in Congress on this mindless regulation? Nope. It is just another example of overreach by bureaucrats at the urging of an imperial president.
It is important to note that not all ivory was or is obtained through poaching. Before the advent of high-powered rifles, most ivory was available from animals that died from old age, disease, or predation. Hunting an elephant was once a dangerous activity, so the preferred method was to harvest the remains of the tens of thousands of already-dead animals. Such remains are still available in massive quantities, but the armchair environmentalists feel it is necessary to pressure African countries to destroy — rather than sell — confiscated fresh ivory or huge amounts of dead ivory. The proceeds of the sale of that ivory could finance enforcement of anti-poaching laws that have universal acceptance.
Indeed, most valuable ivory in this country is centuries old. Not only are beautiful ivory pieces in museums and important private collections, but ivory can also be found in jewelry, musical instruments, furniture, decorative objects, scrimshaw, cutlery, weaponry, medical instruments, pool cues and much more. Please tell me how a ban on the sale of a half-millennia-old ivory statue or a 18th century mandolin can save the life of a single elephant in Africa in 2015 ?
African countries don’t have the resources to put a stop to the slaughter of elephants, but the rest of the world surely does. Banning the sale of antique ivory will do absolutely nothing to stop poaching, but it will certainly create chaos in some segments of the economy.
The cost of enforcement has been hidden from the Congress, and the people, to the extent they care, and will be huge. There are literally tens — if not hundreds — of millions of ivory articles in the hands of antique dealers, collectors and the average citizen. These objects will be sold in contravention of the ridiculous laws set by the USFWS, thus turning honest citizens into felons. In typical fashion, New York and California are leading the anti-ivory parade. Soon it might be illegal to even own a piece of ivory in those states.
Laws and treaties are already in place to combat the illegal ivory trade, but they haven’t been successful because governments lack the willingness to enforce those laws (sound familiar?) so they target otherwise law-abiding people. And I can’t help but shake the feeling that — for anyone contemplating an eventual weapons ban — this could serve as a useful walkthrough.