By Tom Mashberg
To the chagrin of New York antiques dealers, lawmakers in Albany have voted to outlaw the sale of virtually all items containing more than small amounts of elephant ivory, mammoth ivory or rhinoceros horn. The legislation, which is backed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, will essentially eliminate New York’s central role in a well-established, nationwide trade with an estimated annual value of $500 million.
Lawmakers say the prohibitions are needed to curtail the slaughter of endangered African elephants and rhinos, which they say is fueled by a global black market in poached ivory, some of which has turned up in New York.
“The illegal ivory trade has no place in New York State, and we will not stand for individuals who violate the law by supporting it,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement on Tuesday, during the debate on the bill.
The bill was approved by the Assembly on Thursday, 97 to 2, and passed the Senate, 43 to 17, on Friday morning. Mr. Cuomo is expected to sign it within a week.
Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, Democrat of Lindenhurst, a sponsor, said that the law “recognizes the significant impact our state can have on clamping down on illegal ivory sales” and that it would help rescue elephants from “ruthless poaching operations run by terrorists and organized crime.”
Dealers and collectors who trade in ivory antiques owned long before the era of mass poaching say the restrictions, which are stiffer than similar federal rules announced in May, will hurt legitimate sellers but do little to protect endangered animals. The real threat to elephants and rhinos, they say, comes from the enormous illicit market in tusks and horns based in China and other Asian nations.
“It is masterful self-deception to think the elephant can be saved by banning ivory in New York,” said Clinton Howell, president of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, which is based in Manhattan. “Those of us with licenses to sell ivory have no problem with severe penalties for people who buy newly poached ivory, but that is absolutely not the problem here.”
His was one of at least five arts and antiques trade groups that opposed the measure.
Crucial to the bill is a section that outlaws the sale of all ivory objects unless an item is both at least 100 years old and consists of less than 20 percent ivory. Federal rules require that items be 100 years old but do not set any content restrictions.
As a result, a carved tusk or rhino horn from the 19th century, which would be well over 20 percent in content, could be sold under federal rules, but not in New York. (Both state and federal laws exempt ivory-based musical instruments owned before 1975).
The bill would also make it a felony to deal in banned ivory or horn that is valued at $25,000 or more.