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One of the most critical threats facing endangered African elephants is the illicit ivory trade. During the 1970s and 1980s, the population of African elephants dropped from 1.3 million to 600,000, leading to an international ban on the commercial ivory trade in 1989. Following this, African elephant numbers began to stabilize and recover. In 1997, however, a limited amount of stockpiled “antique” ivory was permitted to leave Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, ending up in China and Japan.

Soaring demand in these two countries led the illegal wildlife poaching trade to kick off once again, reversing the previous, positive trend that had been witnessed in Africa’s elephant population. Today, one of these majestic animals is killed for their tusks every fifteen minutes – which amounts to around 100 every single day. Between 2012 and 2015, it was estimated that over 103,000 elephants met their deaths at the hands of poachers. Luckily, world leaders are beginning to sit up and pay attention to this problem. Last year, an important agreement was reached between the U.S. and China – the world’s two biggest consumers of ivory products – to curb the ivory trade and help save elephants.

Sadly, however, a new report carried out by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International (HSI), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has just revealed that Hawaii has a “rampant” undocumented online trade in ivory products. A snap shot investigation by these groups, carried out on a number of online retailers in the state, painted a bleak picture. Over the course of six days, investigators found more than 1,800 online advertisements for ivory products, including jewelry, carved tusks, and even scrimshawed elephant toenails. Overall, more than 4,600 items – worth over $1.2 million – were offered for sale.

In recent decades, wildlife poaching has decimated the once-thriving population of African elephants. While a number of U.S. states have taken action to ban the sale of ivory within their borders, and President Obama last year proposed a monumental ban on ivory throughout the entire country, it is clear that more needs to be done to stamp out the trade for good.

“Dozens of flights and ships enter Hawaiian ports and airports daily from across Asia and the Pacific, making the state a potential illegal ivory trade hub,” said Elly Pepper, Wildlife Advocate for NRDC. “New York and California have passed ivory bans in the last two years, leaving Hawaii as probably the largest remaining black market in the United States. Hawaii should do its part to end the crisis and protect African elephants by shutting down the state’s ivory market.”

“The lack of documentation from these online retailers potentially allows recently poached ivory to be sold side by side with truly antique ivory, confusing law enforcement officers and consumers alike, said Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s North American regional director. “It’s far too easy for legal and illegal ivory to coexist in the market place. If elephants are to have a chance of survival, the ivory trade needs to go extinct.”

It is clear that cutting off the demand for ALL forms of ivory – instead of allowing an exception to be made for “antique” ivory, which can be so easily abused – is the only way that African elephants will be given a chance to thrive once more.

We can all make a difference for elephants by raising awareness for the trade and making sure that we are in no way contributing to it. When the buying stops, so can the killing!

To learn more about how you can help elephants, check out the posts below:

Lead Image Source: John Vetterli/Flickr

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