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Bill banning sale of ivory heads to Gov. Scott’s desk

Proposal bans the sale of various animal parts
Published: Sep. 28, 2020 at 5:14 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - A bill banning the sale of ivory and other animal parts is on its way to Governor Scott’s desk.

The proposal bans the sale of parts from 17 African animals in an effort to protect endangered species from illegal poaching. Vermont doesn’t have a robust ivory market in antique shops and auction houses, but activists here and in other states are moving forward with similar laws arguing that if Vermont doesn’t crack down on sales, it could be an open the door to more poaching.

The bill, nearly a decade in the making, seeks to take a hard look at Vermont’s role in the global trade of poached animal parts.

“In order to stop the demand, we have to stop the trade," said Ashley McAvey, the founder of Vermont Wildlife. "They go hand in hand. It’s the buying and the selling that leads to the demand which leads to the killing.”

McAvey says between 2007 and 2014, African savanna elephant populations dropped 30 percent, leaving just over 350,000 of the gentle giants left on Earth. Over the last decade, public attention to poaching and selling animal parts has ramped up because of rallies and increased awareness campaigns.

The U.S. already bans the import and export of ivory, but there isn’t a law for selling it in-state. On Thursday before the 2020 Vermont legislative session came to a close, Vermont lawmakers signed off on the bill that allows a few exemptions. Under the bill, Vermonters can sell the ivory if it’s part of an antique more than 100-years-old -- such as a gun or guitar -- or weighs less than 200 grams. If it is over the weight limit, people will have 18 months to sell it.

But some Vermont antique dealers say it’s impossible to tell how old many antiques are when they don’t come with documentation, and say their age tends to be based on word-of-mouth.

“I’ve handled tens of thousands of items, non-ivory in my career," said Steven Thomas, a fine art and antique collector from White River Junction. "I don’t think there’s three things that I can ever trace back 100 years and say this was owned by this person, they bought it from this person. It’s ridiculous.”

Much of the ivory in circulation comes from animals that have been dead for decades. McAvey points to an ivory trinket her grandmother gave her, saying it still can fuel demand. “This elephant obviously died over 100 years ago, but what happens is the second I buy and sell it today, I’m putting value on this piece of ivory today,” McAvey said. "And where there’s value, there’s demand.”

Eleven other states, including New Hampshire and New York, ban the sale of ivory and other animal parts. The bill is now on its way to Governor Scott’s desk where he’s expected to take action on it in the coming days.

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