By Andy Dobson
I believe it is important to respond to my colleague Joe Greenberg’s guest opinion article “N.J. bill should make distinction between old ivory and new” (July 12).
At present, we are facing the genocide of Africa’s elephants. Anybody who buys any sort of ivory is enhancing the risk that future generations will live in a world without elephants. Trade in any form of elephant products increases the demand for more elephants to be killed.
The relatively small market in antique ivory should not be affected by proposed legislation to ban trade in ivory products in New Jersey. The handful of experts resident in the state should be able to readily differentiate between antique Asian works of art (i.e., the netsuke and okimono carvings mentioned by Greenberg), and more recent imitations and forgeries. Indeed, these experts could perform a valuable service by helping dealers and law-enforcement officials identify forgeries.
It is ridiculous to propose that the antiques dealers of New Jersey will be driven to economic extinction if the law does not differentiate between antique and more recent “blood ivory” — ivory that is often intimately associated with terrorism and human rights abuses in Africa.
If antiques dealers need to run so fine a moral gauntlet for their businesses to remain viable, it suggests to me that either their business plans are so poorly developed that economic extinction is already on the horizon or perhaps we should look at other moral ambiguities in their merchandise: So, where do those diamonds come from ... and how old is that antique ring?
The proposed legislation to ban trade in ivory in New Jersey will set a strong precedent to other states to pass similar legislation; it will send a message that China needs to hear that all trade in ivory, elephant and other endangered species, is illegal, unethical and ultimately unsustainable.
I strongly urge Gov. Christie to sign measure S2012 now on his desk. It will make a big difference for elephants and send a strong message that trade in New Jersey is vibrant but bounded by strong ethical considerations.
Andy Dobson is a professor at Princeton University. He has taught courses on conservation biology and population ecology and has worked on elephants and the ivory trade for more than 25 years.