Amid warnings that Hawaii’s ivory market is poised to become the nation’s largest, state lawmakers have pushed forward a pair of bills aimed at banning the sale of “white gold” and other wild animal parts.

 

After two failed attempts in as many years, supporters of the proposed ban are optimistic this could be the year Hawaii finally steps up to help save African elephants, rhinos and other threatened species.

 

Inga Gibson, Hawaii senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told The Huffington Post that with increased educational campaigns and other states taking similar action, Hawaii has seen a “new level of awareness.”

 

“I think people are appalled that these items are being sold here and that we’re such a large market,” she said.

 

Senate Bill 2467 and House Bill 2502, although slightly different, would both prohibit the sale, purchase and trade of animal parts from a variety of species, including elephants, rhinos, tigers and whales.

 

Exempt from the proposed laws would be the sale of antiques at least 100 years old, products used for educational and scientific purposes, items used in traditional cultural practices, guns and knives with less than 20 percent ivory, and musical instruments manufactured before 1976 that contain less than 20 percent ivory or other animal parts. The bills would also not impact a person’s ability to possess ivory or other animal products.

 

Animal advocacy groups say the ban would help discourage poaching that is driven by the global demand for elephant tusks and other materials.

 

“The legislature finds that the most effective way to discourage illegal trafficking in animal species threatened with extinction is to eliminate markets and profits,” reads HB2502. “As other countries and states adopt laws to protect endangered species, Hawaii needs to ensure that it is not an attractive market for illegal wildlife trafficking.”

 

So just how rampant is Hawaii’s ivory trade?

 

A six-day investigation of the state’s online market found that 47 sellers based in the Aloha State were advertising more than 4,600 ivory products, valued at more than $1.2 million. The “overwhelming majority” of those items were described as elephant ivory, according to the report released last week. It was published by the Humane Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

“With New York and California passing ivory bans in the last two years, Hawaii now constitutes the largest remaining ivory market in the United States,” the report concludes.

 

While Gibson and other supporters of the latest legislation are “cautiously optimistic” about its passage, she said there is still plenty of opposition. Gibson contends that “virtually all” opposition is from “those who profit in some way off of ivory sales.”

 

In written testimony, Brenda Reichel, a Honolulu-based gemologist, jeweler and appraiser, said she resents the implication that “anyone who has any type of ivory is in some way automatically a criminal.”