BOSTON >> With a New York antique shop owner facing federal charges for allegedly selling elephant tusks to a Massachusetts buyer, animal advocates in the Bay State are renewing their call for state lawmakers to act on bills that would ban the trade of all ivory horn products.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation announced on Feb. 17 that 77-year-old Ferdinand Krizan, the owner of Fred's Antiques in Franklinville, N.Y. had pled guilty to trafficking in wildlife, an offense that carries a maximum federal penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Krizan is accused of buying two elephant tusks from a Canadian auction house and bringing them into the United States in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act. He then sold those tusks and four others to a Massachusetts buyer on May 31, 2014, authorities said. The Massachusetts buyer has not been publicly identified.
"It just goes to show, and it helps make the case that this illicit ivory trade isn't just happening somewhere else, and it's not just happening across the globe," said Laura Hagen, the deputy director of advocacy at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell, a charitable organization that provides medical care for abused and homeless animals in Massachusetts.
The sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horns — except certain antiques — became illegal in New York state in August 2014. New Jersey was the first state to pass its own ivory ban and California followed suit last year.
"When Governor [Andrew] Cuomo signed a new state law in 2014 to prevent the trade of illegal ivory, the goal was to eliminate this illegal and immoral activity in New York and safeguard imperiled species of animals around the globe," Basil Seggos, the acting commissioner of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a statement.
In Massachusetts, Rep. Lori Ehrlich and Sen. Jason Lewis have filed similar legislation. Their bills would ban the sale of legally possessed ivory but not criminalize possession of elephant ivory that is already owned or prohibit inheritance and non-commercial gifts.
"I'm very pleased to see justice come to individuals trafficking in illegal ivory," said Lewis, a Winchester Democrat. "We know that this illegal market contributes to the decimation of endangered animals, and that this market has strong ties to international terrorist organizations. Massachusetts should join states like New York and New Jersey who have passed laws similar to our legislation to remove Massachusetts from this illegal and globally destructive market."
Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat, said federal efforts are being strengthened to crack down on interstate trade of illegal ivory, but because Krizan sold the tusks to a Massachusetts resident, "there is little that can be done to stop further trade once the ivory is here."
"The loopholes in the law are so gaping that it would be relatively easy for him to sell his ivory in the state," she said. "In order to close these loopholes and strengthen enforcement, I hope we can join California, New York, and New Jersey, which have already stepped up to restrict trade of ivory within their borders."
The bills filed by Ehrlich (H 1275) and Lewis (S 440) are before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and were the subject of hearings last fall.
An October hearing drew crowds of supporters — including the MSPCA and other animal rights groups — as well as critics who said the legislation could threaten the livelihood of some musicians, artists and antique dealers.
Massachusetts scrimshaw dealers and artists also testified at the hearing, describing their whale-ivory folk art as an important part of the state's cultural history.
"It would break my heart to see part of the heritage of Nantucket being lost and pushed to the side," Rep. Timothy Madden of Nantucket said during the hearing. He said then that he was working with proponents of the bill to find a way to protect scrimshaw sales.
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts has said that ivory regulation is best left to the federal government, rather than instituting laws at the state level. Arts organizations have raised concerns that the bill could prevent musicians from reselling their instruments.
The bill takes aim at ivory trade currently allowed under federal laws because those markets can be used to cover up illegal sales of new tusks from elephants recently killed by poachers, according to its proponents.
Hagen said that without knowing where the sale took place, it's hard to definitively know if the pending Massachusetts legislation would have prevented it, as the bills cover commerce within the state and not outside of it.
"But I think that it certainly would have prevented this buyer from then selling these illegal ivory tusks to another Massachusetts buyer," she said. "These state bills make the market smaller for this person to continue to traffic these illegal ivory pieces."