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Robert K. Sweeney
Assembly District 11
Chair, Environmental Conservation Committee
Tusks and Terrorism
Sweeney calls on DEC to aid in stopping elephant extinction
January 30, 2014

Reacting to information that the African elephant is headed for extinction and that elephant ivory poaching is funding terrorism, Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, Chairman of the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, today issued a letter calling on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protect elephants by prohibiting the sale of ivory in New York. The sale of ivory in New York currently requires a DEC license.

“Current law does not mandate the issuance of licenses, but instead indicates that the Department has a choice as to whether or not to issue licenses. I am urging them to choose to protect elephants and to stop issuing licenses permitting the sale of ivory until there are provisions in place that will provide the elephants with the protections they need. I think it is unacceptable that 96 elephants die per day to satisfy the vanity ivory market and to finance terrorism,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney, who held a hearing on January 16th to examine the link between New York’s ivory sales and elephant extinction in the wild, said “Despite the many different voices heard at the hearing, there was a common theme. The ivory trade drives the killing of elephants and funds terrorism. Unfortunately, New York is one of the largest markets for ivory sales making it even more important for the Department to realize the urgency of the situation and take action.”

The Assembly hearing included testimony from representatives from the nations of Tanzania and Botswana as well as representatives from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and many concerned advocacy groups.

Highlights of the hearing testimony included:

  • Requests by the representatives of the nations of Tanzania and Botswana for an ivory sales ban.
  • Acknowledgement from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service of the difficulties and, in many cases, the impossibility associated with determining the age and origin of ivory.
  • Specific information from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Humane Society of the United States regarding the speed at which elephant extinction may happen without action to reduce demand for the elephant ivory.

The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that 96 elephants are killed each day in Africa, translating into one elephant death every fifteen minutes and a 76 percent population decline since 2002.

  • Acknowledgment that the illegal slaughter of elephants funds terrorism.

A September report issued by The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates that elephant ivory poaching in recent years reflects the increased involvement of organized crime. In addition, Al Shabaab, a group which has been designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization and has been implicated in the recent attacks on a shopping mall in Kenya, is also referenced in the report as being involved in ivory poaching.

“Wildlife trafficking is increasingly associated with rebel and terrorist groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda terrorist cell in East Africa. The cocktail of poverty, anarchy and trans-national organized crime is extremely explosive and destructive,” said Mr. Tuvako N. Manongi, Ambassador United Republic of Tanzania.

The Elephant Action League estimates Shabaab’s monthly income from ivory at between $200,000 and $600,000.

“New York State must close the market that is driving the elephant to extinction and helping to finance terrorism,” Sweeney concluded.

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