Memorandum for the Governor of California

AB 96 Will Hurt Californians More Than It Will Help Elephants

September 14, 2015

Punishing Californians for owning items made from or with ivory — Ivory Education Institute most of which have historical, cultural, and artistic importance and nearly all of which were purchased legally and inherited legitimately — will have no impact on efforts lo save elephants in danger in Africa. Fining and jailing fellow citizens for having done nothing wrong nor endangered the lives, safely or well being of anyone in order 10 “do something” is morally wrong. Worse, this bill is deeply flawed:

  • While AB 96 calls for heavy new penalties for dealing in ivory, there are no funds now or contemplated in the future tor enforcing this law. Will individuals voluntarily relinquish hundreds of millions of dollars in the investments they have made in ivory objects of great age, great cultural importance, and great artistic value? Did California’s ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919 stop alcohol consumption in the Stale? Government by wishful thinking may be acceptable in schoolrooms or by intimidation in authoritarian regimes. it should have no place in California. Promoting anything that further degrades the public’s trust of government in today’s
    political climate seems to invite ever greater revulsion with elected officials.
  • The very number that AB 96 was assigned is questionable – the “96” refers to the number of elephants said to be killed each day in Africa for their ivory. We calculate that 35,000 elephants dying at the hands of poachers would yield at a minimum 700,000 pounds of ivory — the equivalent weight of five Atlantis shuttles. That much ivory would be enough to provide a pair of earrings to one out of every two American women every year. Where are all these earrings being sold?
  • Proponents of AB 96 insist that California is awash in illegal ivory. It is not. The study so often relied on lo make this statement asked researchers whether any ivory on sale in Los Angeles or San Francisco was “possibly” worked after 1977. Nearly every piece seen by the chief investigator fit that category, but he has indicated that only a few were “probably” post-1977 pieces. Asking a question to engineer a certain answer is intellectually dishonest and tantamount to fraudulent to justify a new law.
  • How can banning all trade in important cultural artifacts carved from fossilized walrus or from mammoth and mastodon tusks – animals that have been extinct for tens of thousands of years – have anything reasonably or realistically lo do with saving elephants in Africa today? How is it fair (or sensible) to allow an exemption on the trade and movement of ivory objects for museums, but throw collectors under the bus when they will likely provide what museums eventually display?

AB 96 should be returned lo the legislature with the hope that California could take a major leadership role in the protection of endangered elephant herds by contributing the State’s expertise and resources to helping African communities build a stronger economic stake in their wildlife resources and by bringing current East Asian demand into balance supplies of both elephant and non-elephant ivory.


Godfrey Harris

Managing Director
Political Action Network / International Ivory Society Ivory Education Institute