When people think of the ivory trade, most probably think of China at one point or another. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), China is home to the largest ivory market in the world, so this thought process isn’t far off. However, in recent news, a seizure of more than 300 ivory items worth $1.3 million occurred in an upscale antique store right here in the United States, specifically in the La Jolla beach community of San Diego, California.
Carlton Gallery was targeted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife after seeing a statue in the store’s display window that looked to be made of ivory. Then in May of 2018, the sting operation was put into action by Fish and Wildlife where an officer entered the store and wished to purchase an ivory sculpture. After buying the illegal item, one of the employees offered the officer to see other sculptures they had containing ivory. All of these actions made by the gallery were enough to allow the team to obtain a search warrant and what officers found was startling.
There were 146 items at Carlton Gallery containing ivory and another 192 ivory items in a warehouse making this the largest ivory seizure since a statewide ban went into effect in 2016. Investigators with Fish and Wildlife said the items were predominantly made of ivory from elephants with some of the ivory coming from hippopotamus teeth. Although they can’t be certain how many animals were killed to produce this amount of ivory, there is no denying major harm was done. This sting operation was named AB 96, to represent the number of elephants killed in the wild every day.
Even though much of this work happened back in May, it was this week that San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins were able to make an announcement to the public about the charges being filed against Carlton Gallery. This release was publicly announced at San Diego Zoo’s “Elephant Odyssey” exhibit where awareness was also brought forth about the evils of the ivory trade. If convicted, the employee who sold the ivory and the store’s owner could face years in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
The 2016 bill which bans the sale of ivory in California was designed to impede the poaching and killing of elephants, with the intent to reach beyond California’s borders and throughout the United States. Theban outlaws explicitly the sale of ivory teeth and tusks from elephants, hippopotamuses, mammoths, mastodons, walruses, warthogs, whales, and narwhals, as well as rhinoceros horn. Exemptions include musical instruments made of less than 20% ivory and manufactured before 1975 and antiques made of less than 5% ivory that are more than 100 years old.
When speaking at the San Diego Zoo exhibit on the recent charges, Attorney Elliott left the audience with a powerful message stating, “Ivory trafficking is an illegal and reprehensible business that encourages the senseless slaughter of elephants and other endangered species. I hope this prosecution sends a strong message to anyone who sells or is thinking about selling ivory on the black market in San Diego. We will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”