WASHINGTON—Today the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International released a disturbing undercover investigation revealing the potentially deceptive sale of products made from elephant ivory by 20 sellers across Maryland. The investigation, which took place between July and December 2021 in Kensington, Annapolis, Hagerstown, Frederick and other locations across the state, documents hundreds of figurines, trinkets and jewelry carved from elephant ivory and up for sale.
Legislation to prohibit the sale of parts and products from imperiled species has been introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. The bill (HB 52/SB 381) addresses intrastate trade and complements existing federal laws.
The Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International investigator saw that tags on most ivory items for sale did not identify the material they were made of. When asked about the vague and incomplete item descriptions, several salespeople told the investigator that they were not supposed to say it’s ivory. Most sellers claimed to know nothing about laws regulating the sale of ivory, or about the ivory items they were selling.
In an Annapolis store, some ivory items were labeled “ivory” or “elephant ivory” however the store clerk had no further information on the pieces, which is required by federal law. At another Annapolis store, a seller claimed to not know what a set of napkin holders appearing to be ivory were made of but told the investigator he took them off his eBay site after online shoppers complained the items were ivory. In a Kensington shop, a staffer bragged that she took a class on ivory identification but told the investigator she is confused about ivory law and identification and cannot discern ivory age or type. At one store, the investigator found a lamp likely made from a giraffe’s legbone carved with a giraffe and elephant motif that was labelled “camel bone,” demonstrating that sellers may not know the origins of their items or are purposefully misleading buyers.
None of the vendors at the 20 locations could provide the documentation required by federal law to verify the age or origin of ivory products. Without required documentation proving that the item is an antique at least 100 years old, ivory items for sale in Maryland are potentially new ivory sourced from recently poached elephants. Several items documented for sale in Maryland appear to be newer—they lack the patina or discoloration which is a sign of age, and the style of the items are more modern than many classic antique pieces.
The investigation shows that Maryland sellers and consumers could be unknowingly contributing to the illegal ivory trade as potentially illicit ivory is being sold under the guise of legal ivory. Although many sellers are aware of federal regulations, others are unaware that what they are selling may be illegal ivory given the lack of state law governing its sale. Those seeking to sell illegal ivory take advantage of that gap in state law, putting both honest antique sellers and Maryland consumers at risk of purchasing illegal and recently poached ivory.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Passage of legislation to stop the sale of elephant ivory and other imperiled species will ensure that Maryland does not provide a local market for animal products that result from international poaching and trafficking. We also want to alert consumers who may not realize they are unwittingly contributing to the destruction of iconic animals and the illegal wildlife trade. Twelve states and Washington, D.C., have passed similar measures, and we are concerned the D.C. ivory market can easily shift to Maryland if we don’t have laws to curtail it.”
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, said: “We must protect imperiled species around the world by removing the financial incentive to kill wildlife and trade in their parts. This travesty contributes to the devastating loss of elephants and other at-risk species across the globe.”
Delegate Sara Love (D-16), the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, said: “Marylanders care about global issues and want to do our part to make a difference. This Humane Society of the United States investigation proves that Maryland is creating a market for these parts and products, and by aligning Maryland law with the federal law, we can take a significant step toward protecting these iconic species.”
Senator Will Smith (D-20), the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, said: “The sale of illegally poached ivory right here in Maryland helps fund illegal activity across the globe, fueling terrorism and driving global insecurity. Cutting off access to our markets is a simple step Maryland can take to make all of us safer.”
In addition to elephant ivory, the bill would prohibit the sale of products and parts from giraffes, hippos, pangolins, sea turtles, rhinos, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, tigers, leopards, bonobos, orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas. Passage of this legislation will ensure that Maryland does not sell products that contribute to animal cruelty, international wildlife crimes and the trade of products from endangered and threatened species.
- Twelve states, along with Washington, D.C., have passed laws to prohibit the trade of parts and products sourced from imperiled species within their borders.
- In 2016, the U.S. implemented a near-total ban on commercial trade in African elephant ivory. A 2017 executive order strengthened law enforcement efforts to combat transnational criminal organizations, such as those involved in the illegal smuggling and trafficking of wildlife.
- Federal laws and regulations primarily restrict the import, export or interstate trade of products from endangered and threatened species, but they do not regulate intrastate sales so wildlife products continue to be illegally imported and enter the domestic market. State and local laws are needed to complement existing federal laws and regulations.
- Many species are directly threatened because of the illegal wildlife trade—fueled by the demand for their parts and products in the U.S. Each year, as many as 15,000 elephants are killed in Africa to supply the demand for their ivory. A recent report found the population of savanna elephants has declined by 60%, and forest elephants by more than 86% since the 1970s, placing them a step or two away from extinction.
- Cheetahs have lost an estimated 91% of their historic habitat and fewer than 7,100 remain in the wild.
- Evidence shows that the U.S. is a significant destination market for giraffe specimens. Between 2006 and 2015, approximately 40,000 giraffe parts and products were imported into the U.S.
- All seven sea turtle species are threatened with extinction.
- African lion populations have declined by 43% since 1993 and are still declining.