Every 15 minutes, an African elephant is killed for its tusks. At that rate, the last wild elephant will be gone within 20 years. The United States is second only to China as the world’s top market for elephant ivory, which means Americans bear a heavy responsibility to end the demand that makes the slaughter of elephants profitable. Oregonians can do their part by approving Measure 100 on the Nov. 8 ballot, which would ban the sale of ivory, rhinoceros horns and other heavily trafficked products made from the corpses of endangered species.
But intrastate trade is still permitted — all a seller has to do is vouch that a chess set or hunting trophy was made before 1990. The age of ivory and other animal parts is difficult to determine, so banned material can be smuggled into the United States and sold openly in Oregon as legitimate.The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service already enforces a ban on the importation of ivory, rhino horns and other endangered animal parts, and 180 nations have supported a global ban by signing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The United States tightened its ban in 2014, prohibiting interstate commerce in ivory items less than 100 years old and sales within states of items made after 1990, the year the international convention took effect.
Measure 100 would prohibit the purchase or sale of products made from elephants, rhinos, whales, sea turtles, big felines and other species threatened with extinction by poachers. The state Department of Fish & Wildlife would enforce the ban with fines of up to $6,500, or twice the value of the prohibited item. The measure imposes no new taxes to pay for enforcement.
The measure includes common-sense exemptions for antiques and musical instruments. Gifts and bequests of prohibited items would be unaffected — it would still be legal to pass a piece of scrimshaw from one generation to the next.
When sponsors of Measure 100 are asked whether the market for prohibited products is large enough in Oregon to require the attention of voters and wildlife agencies, the answer is: You’d be surprised. A person who goes looking for tiger pelts or whale bone can find them at flea markets or obtain them from private vendors, and the online trade is brisk.
Poaching endangered animals is big business, and a dirty one — among illegally trafficked goods, only drugs, weapons and humans generate larger dollar volumes, and those who deal in one of these forms of contraband often deal in the others as well, corrupting governments and funding criminal enterprises. The poaching will continue as long as there is demand for animal parts.Other states already have moved to crack down on the sale of endangered-animal parts within their borders, and their action amplifies the importance of Measure 100. Bans in California and Washington leave Oregon as the last West Coast state where such sales are permitted, so some of the commerce has shifted north and south. Each state ban shrinks the legal U.S. market, thereby making it harder to launder smuggled sea turtle shells and other prohibited animal products.
Measure 100 would reduce demand, shut down the legal market through which illicit animal parts continue to move, and contribute in a small but meaningful way to the survival of some of the planet’s most magnificent animals. The measure deserves voters’ support.