Washington, DC, Passes Law to Ban the Sale of Ivory and Rhino Horn

Photo by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard
Photo by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard

Five Years in the Making, Ban Takes Steps to Address International Wildlife Trafficking

Washington, DC—The District of Columbia has passed a law to address the surging local market for goods that contribute to declines in endangered wildlife. The Elephant Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Trafficking Prohibition Act, which bans the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn in the District, was approved by Mayor Muriel Bowser last week. DC now joins 11 states that have passed anti-trafficking laws.

Poaching and trafficking of wildlife products has put elephant and rhino populations —already under intense ecological pressure — in even more severe jeopardy. Yet, until now, ivory and rhino horn sales were still legal within DC. Although the federal government has implemented restrictions on ivory imports and interstate sales, these regulations do not address commerce within a state. Cities and states across the United States have consequently banned ivory and rhino horn sales to fill gaps in federal policy. However, these policies have condensed ivory markets to places where the trade is still legal, such as the nation’s capital.

The Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation in 2019 that revealed the alarming extent of ivory sales throughout the District. Investigators found dozens of ivory items for sale, ranging from small ivory figurines to a full carved elephant tusk. Concurrently, Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) continued to push for a ban on these products. As the bill’s lead sponsor, Cheh first proposed this ban in 2015.

“I am heartened to finally see the success of this bill which sends the strong message that Washingtonians are taking a stand against the destructive ivory market,” said Councilmember Cheh. “Ivory dealers will no longer be able to take advantage of the lack of local laws banning the sale of ivory, and our law will help reverse the devastating decline in wild elephant and rhino populations across the globe.”

A coalition of animal protection organizations advocated for the passage of this bill, including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, ElephantsDC, DC Environmental Network, A Vegan Life, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Sierra Club DC, Humane Rescue Alliance, and DC Voters for Animals.

“Mayor Bowser and the DC Council have taken a meaningful step towards helping to save elephants and rhinos by prohibiting the sale of their tusks and horns in the nation’s capital,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “Bans like this reduce the market for these items, thereby minimizing the role the United States plays in the devastating poaching and wildlife trafficking crisis.”

“Most people expect that ivory and rhino horn sales have already been done away with,” said Max Broad, founder of DC Voters for Animals. “This law puts that expectation into place, clamping down on the goods that are driving the demise of these precious species. It’s an exemplary display of DC values.”

“During the course of our undercover investigation it was shocking to come across a full elephant tusk worth $600,000, along with multiple items worth tens of thousands of dollars,” said Molly Armus of the Humane Society of the United States. “We are so grateful to the DC Council and lead sponsor Councilmember Mary Cheh for championing this important issue to ensure that the District is no longer a haven for this cruel trade.”

“The DC Council joins a growing number of states to enact a law that prohibits intrastate sales of illegal ivory and horn from elephants and rhinos,” said Patricia Welty of A Vegan Life, Inc. “These animals are slaughtered at alarming rates and face extinction in the wild because their tusks and horns are worth more than gold on the black market. The DC law ends illegal trafficking of ivory and horn within DC and takes the necessary action to help ensure elephants and rhinos remain in the wild for future generations.”

“Wildlife traffickers are adept at identifying opportunities and new markets to sell their products, often looking for jurisdictions where regulations or enforcement are lax, allowing their trade, so detrimental to critical wildlife species, to ultimately flourish. The DC Council’s action to end its trade in ivory and rhino horn sends a strong signal that the District will no longer tolerate this. Business in the trade of these precious and endangered species here in Washington, DC, is officially over,” said Beth Allgood, US Country Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“Consumers are driving demand for ivory, with DC leading the way as one of the largest markets for ivory sales in the United States,” said Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance. “As an organization that has served the District and its animals for more than a century, we have a duty to help consumers make informed, humane decisions and to do what we can to prevent the possible loss of African elephants during our lifetime. Thank you to the sponsors who championed this important issue and to all of the councilmembers who voted in support.”

The bill now goes to Congress for final approval.

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The Animal Welfare Institute (www.awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

Founded in 1954, the Humane Society of the United States and its affiliates around the globe fight the big fights to end suffering for all animals. Together with millions of supporters, the HSUS takes on puppy mills, factory farms, trophy hunts, animal testing and other cruel industries, and together with its affiliates, rescues and provides direct care for over 100,000 animals every year. The HSUS works on reforming corporate policy, improving and enforcing laws and elevating public awareness on animal issues. More at humanesociety.org.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organizations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at ifaw.org.

The Humane Rescue Alliance has protected and cared for the animals of the nation’s capital for nearly 150 years and serves thousands of animals annually. Its broad range of programs offered include: direct rescue and care of animals in need, cruelty investigations and local animal control services, robust regional community support programs that help pets stay with their families, and a premier transport program that invests in partner communities to solve pet overpopulation sustainably and nationwide. The organization advocates for and enables the safety and welfare of all animals, bringing people and animals together, and working within communities to support these relationships. HRA is based in Washington, DC, and through a merger with St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, created the first regional, community-based, multi-state animal welfare organization in the nation. Learn more at www.humanerescuealliance.org.

The mission of A Vegan Life is to promote a vegan lifestyle by holding events that help people make the connection between food choices and the effect on the environment, farm animals and health. See more at aveganlife.org.

DC Voters for Animals is a political organization that coalesces the voice of the animal voter in Washington, DC. DCVFA works to pass laws for all animals, whether wildlife, animals used in farms or labs, or companion animals such as our dogs and cats. By equipping ordinary citizens with the tools to be effective in the halls of DC Council, we can normalize strong animal policy and reshape our society’s relationship with non-human animals for the better. See DCVFA’s work at dcvfa.com.

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