Mukherji Legislation to Combat Ivory Trafficking Receives Final Legislative Approval

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrat Raj Mukherji to help combat ivory trafficking was passed by the Assembly on Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

The bill (A-3128) prohibits anyone from selling, offering for sale, purchasing, importing, bartering or possessing with intent to sell any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn or rhinoceros horn product.

Mukherji (D-Hudson), a former Sergeant in the Marine Corps who served as a reservist in military intelligence, touted the national security implications of the legislation.

“Terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Janjaweed are funding their operations with profits from poaching and the illegal ivory trade. With New Jersey ports serving as a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking and our proximity to New York City, the largest ivory buyer in the country, we needed to act now. Just two weeks ago, U.S. Attorney Fishman secured a lengthy federal sentence for the ringleader of a rhinoceros trafficking ring and pointed to the threat to the U.S. posed by the multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife market,” Mukherji said.

Mukherji added, “Ivory trafficking is at the highest rate ever recorded, and it is driving elephants and other endangered and threatened species toward extinction. By prohibiting sale and importation, this bill closes loopholes in ivory commerce and, coupled with federal law and recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations, will take our state out of these nefarious activities.”

Mukherji also pointed to legislation pending in New York and the need to prevent the blood ivory market from moving across the Hudson River to New Jersey. Despite laws to protect elephants, more than 35,000 African elephants were slaughtered in 2012, and scientists expect the current levels of illegal trade in ivory may bring elephants to extinction within 20 years. Other species with ivory teeth and tusks – such as hippopotamuses, narwhals, walruses and whales – are equally threatened. The population of all species of rhinoceros living in the wild worldwide has dwindled to 29,000. In February, a federal ban on commercial trade of rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory focused the need to protect rhinoceros populations from poachers.

“The protection of one species may inadvertently draw poachers’ efforts to another species,” Mukherji said. “Even precious artifacts from prehistoric mammoths are also not safe and need protection from illegal ivory traffickers.”

“The most effective way to discourage the illegal trafficking is to eliminate markets and profits for the traffickers,” Mukherji said. “The passage of this bill makes it clear that we will not allow New Jersey to be a market for ivory trafficking and profits for poachers and traffickers.”

The bill:

· Permits a person to convey ivory, ivory products, rhinoceros horn, or rhinoceros horn products to legal beneficiaries;

· Directs the Department of Environmental Protection to establish procedures for addressing ivory, ivory products, rhinoceros horn, or rhinoceros horn products that were obtained legally; and

· Specifies that the act of obtaining an appraisal of ivory, an ivory product, rhinoceros horn, or a rhinoceros horn product alone would not constitute possession with intent to sell.

The bill also establishes, in addition to any applicable penalties which may be imposed pursuant to The Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act, or any other applicable law, the following:

· For a first offense, the person would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and fined not less than $1,000 or an amount equal to two times the total value of the ivory, ivory products, rhinoceros horn, and rhinoceros horn products involved in the offense, whichever is greater; and

· For a second or subsequent offense, the person would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree and fined not less than $5,000 or an amount equal to two times the total value of the ivory, ivory products, rhinoceros horn, and rhinoceros horn products involved in the offense, whichever is greater.

The bill was approved by the Assembly 75-2-1. The Senate approved the measure last Thursday.