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March 4, 2016

Undercover Investigation Reveals Hawaii a Haven for Illegal Ivory

Tourists duped into buying illegal ivory, unknowingly supporting destructive wildlife trade

Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States

The illegal ivory trade is flourishing in Hawaii, with ivory dealers and businesses giving pointers to customers about how to skirt federal law to smuggle ivory out of the country without required permits. These were the findings of an undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International that discovered ivory being sold in various venues, including jewelry stores, antique and collectible stores and a swap meet.

As shown in the undercover footage, the sellers had none of the documentation required under federal law to demonstrate the legality of the ivory items they were offering for sale. The lack of documentation provides cover for illegal ivory to be laundered into the marketplace. The investigator found ivory jewelry, figurines and tusks for sale. Some of the ivory looked as if it was newly obtained. As documented on the video, dealers are openly selling ivory of dubious origin and giving tips to customers on smuggling ivory out of the country or across state lines without required permits.

Inga Gibson, Hawaii director for The HSUS, said: “Hawaii is a major marketplace for the sale of illegal ivory with buyers and sellers directly contributing to the crisis of elephant poaching in Africa. Hawaii residents should demand a strong state law to shut down this pernicious trade that is damaging Hawaii’s conservation reputation and legacy.”

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A 2008 study by Care for the Wild International and Save the Elephants estimated that 89 percent of ivory sold in Hawaii was illegal or of unknown origin. A report released this week by The HSUS, HSI and a coalition of conservation groups found a thriving online ivory market in Hawaii, with an overwhelming majority of the products offered for sale lacking proof that they were imported legally. Last year, five people associated with Hawaiian Accessories Inc. were arrested and indicted for conspiracy, wildlife trafficking and smuggling of whale bone, walrus and elephant ivory and other wildlife products from Alaska and the Philippines into Hawaii. Items from Hawaiian Accessories were sold at their stores in Waikiki.

A bill to ban the sale of ivory and rhino horn in Hawaii, SB 2647 and HB 2502, is awaiting a hearing in the House next week.

President Barack Obama and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife have issued a proposed rule to protect African elephants by curtailing the commercial ivory trade in the U.S. with few exceptions. However, some politicians are trying to impede its implementation, and just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2406 which would block any federal rulemaking to close loopholes in the ivory trade.

B-roll footage and video stills are available here.


  • In 2014, legislators from Hawaii were the first in the nation to introduce a bill to end the ivory and rhinoceros horn trade. The bill failed to pass due to strong opposition from local ivory dealers.
  • New York, New Jersey, California and Washington have enacted state laws to ban the sale of ivory and other threatened or endangered species. A ballot initiative campaign is underway in Oregon and legislation is pending in other states.
  • New York and California were the two largest ivory markets in the U.S. Since these markets are closed, Hawaii now constitutes the largest remaining ivory market in the U.S.
  • The Endangered Species Act regulates import, export and interstate commerce of listed species but does not regulate intrastate (in-state) sales. Federal regulations and laws governing the ivory trade are convoluted and riddled with loopholes and while the U.S. government is working to close these loopholes, the proposed rule is not yet finalized. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe stated last year that state bans are an important part of the solution: "The ivory poaching and trafficking crisis is a complex problem that requires action on multiple levels to ensure that commercial trade doesn't contribute to the slaughter of elephants in the wild. As we work to make it harder for criminals to launder illegal ivory into international and interstate commercial trade, it's encouraging to see states taking action within their own borders."
  • Poachers kill approximately 35,000 African elephants each year for their ivory tusks.

Media contact: Raúl Arce-Contreras, 301-721-6440, rcontreras@humanesociety.org

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