HONOLULU (AP) — Wildlife advocates met at the Hawaii Capitol on Thursday to discuss the state's illegal ivory trade, which they say could become the largest in the U.S. if left unregulated.
Kristin Bauer van Straten, an actress from the HBO series "True Blood," joined Pearl Jam's Boom Gaspar and Hawaii musician Henry Kapono to support bills to ban selling ivory in the state. They were joined by several wildlife advocacy groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
"Most of us think this is something that's been handled," said Bauer van Straten, who's been working to raise awareness on the issue for five years. "It's worse than ever."
Hawaii is a major gateway between the U.S. and Asia, and many tourists come to buy ivory from the state's local merchants and jewelers. Animal rights groups say Hawaii's demand for ivory could be helping to drive poachers to kill thousands of elephants each year for their tusks.
Animal advocacy groups say Hawaii is the third-largest ivory market in the country, but it could soon become the largest. The only states with larger markets are California and New York, which have banned the sale of undocumented ivory.
There are two bills in the Hawaii Legislature this session that would ban the sale of certain wildlife parts, including elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns and tiger pelts. Hawaii lawmakers have introduced similar bills in previous years, but none have passed.
The bills are supported by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Humane Society of the United States and wildlife advocates who say banning illegal ivory could help curb other black markets.
Yet the ivory ban is opposed by businesses and organizations who say it could put local jewelers and scrimshaw artists out of work. They say it would hurt Hawaii residents who own legal ivory, such as people who own antique guns decorated with elephant ivory.
"The only people harmed by this bill are law-abiding sellers and collectors of legal animal products, not the poachers and black market ivory dealers in other countries," said Jessica Baker, who works at the Whaler's Locker, a jewelry store in Lahaina, Maui.
The Hawaii bills come after the U.S. and China announced a cooperative effort last year to stop wildlife trafficking, including the import of illegal ivory.
In the past two years, over 19 states have considered bans on the sale of certain animal parts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.