Investigations by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have culminated in illegal trafficking of wildlife cases pending in Los Angeles and Alameda counties, and in San Francisco.
In recent weeks, CDFW’s Wildlife Trafficking Team worked three separate investigations:
- CDFW wildlife officers intercepted and seized 377 items of jewelry containing pieces labeled as mammoth ivory at an air cargo terminal in Los Angeles, following a report from U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) inspectors regarding the unlawful commercial importation. The ivory was shipped from Indonesia into California. Criminal charges will be recommended to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for the suspected violations.
- CDFW wildlife officers and USFWS inspectors intercepted a shipment of three boxes from Indonesia containing 116 items made of python skin. The items included large and small purses, large bags and a variety of wallets. Like ivory and rhinoceros horn, it is unlawful to import into California for commercial purposes the dead body or parts of a python. The items were seized, and criminal charges will be recommended to the Alameda County District Attorney’s office for the suspected violations.
- Wildlife officers also worked with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office to crackdown on illicit trafficking of ivory and rhinoceros horn in San Francisco. Wildlife officers inspected several businesses in San Francisco and found two with significant violations. Wildlife officers seized a solid bone pagoda and a rhinoceros horn bracelet at one location. At another location they seized 18 statuettes ranging from 15 to 26 inches containing suspected pieces of ivory and 37 statuettes ranging in size from one-half inch to six inches suspected to be made entirely from ivory. They also seized suspected whale teeth, two ivory chess sets and two carved tusks labeled as mammoth ivory. The total value of the seized items from the San Francisco operation is estimated at over $500,000. Criminal charges will be recommended to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office for the suspected violations.
CDFW wildlife officers have submitted formal complaints to prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Alameda counties. Prosecutors will determine whether charges will be filed. No arrests have been made to date.
A law banning the sale of nearly all ivory in the state of California took effect July 1, 2016. The ban, which can be found in California Fish and Game Code, section 2022, encompasses teeth and tusks of elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, mastodon, walrus, warthog, whale and narwhal, as well as rhinoceros horn, regardless of whether it is raw, worked or powdered, or from a store or a private collection. Under the law, advertising the sale of any items containing ivory is also strictly prohibited. The legislation helped fund the team of CDFW officers to focus on ivory, rhinoceros horn and other wildlife trafficking, including training and laboratory capability for evidence analysis.
“Under Governor Brown’s leadership, laws to combat illegal wildlife trafficking have been substantially strengthened,” said David Bess, Chief of CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division. “The creation of our Wildlife Trafficking Team and enhancement of our laboratory and legal staff are important steps in stopping the epidemic of poaching and trafficking of wildlife in California and around the world. This effort by our wildlife officers demonstrates that the black market trafficking of wildlife in California will not be tolerated. We stand ready beside our federal and state partners, as well as District Attorneys across the state to take these poachers and traffickers out of business.”
Under the new law, raw ivory and most crafted items that include ivory may no longer be purchased, sold or possessed with the intent to sell, with limited exceptions, including the following:
- Ivory or rhino horn that is part of a bona fide antique (with historical documentation showing the antique is at least 100 years old) provided the item is less than five percent ivory or rhino horn by volume;
- Ivory or rhino horn that is part of a musical instrument (with documentation of pre-1975 construction) provided the instrument contains less than 20 percent ivory or rhino horn by volume; and
- Activities expressly authorized by federal law, or federal exemptions or permits.
Although the sale of ivory and elephant parts has been illegal in California since 1977, the new law closed a loophole that allowed the continued sale of ivory that was imported into the state before 1977. The sale of ivory, rhino horn or products that contain ivory will be a misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $50,000 and one year of incarceration.
Lt. Chris Stoots, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-9982