NJ Rhino Horn Smuggling Case ~ Outcome

I know I’m a little late to the table on the whole “Ivory-banning” topic, but a case was just settled on the issue, so I thought it was an interesting share.   Message To Leave With–Ivory of all kind is pretty much forboten in the States right now. So don’t try smuggling in or out anything made of Rhino or Elephant ivory; you risk a hefty fine and/or prison time.  

A little (Super-Simplified) background on the laws themselves:

Endangered Species Act (1973)–>More or less stated that protecting our “natural heritage” (as opposed to  artifacts/art/man-made heritage) was an important duty for Americans. It went on to begin outlining basic legal protections for the “native plants and animals” that were considered endangered or on the verge of extinction.  Out of this came the:

African Elephant Conservation Act (1989)–> This act acknowledged that African elephants (and because they are “indistinguishable,” Asian Elephants) were on the verge of extinction (note the link here they made to previous law). Furthermore, the “illegal trade” was a large part of the problem, and the US had a responsibility to put a stop to such trade on its own shores.  Take note: sport hunting was left out in this act as being OK. Thus, you just needed to prove that your ivory/Elephant parts came from sport hunting instead of poaching, and you were all good.  Closely linked to and resembling this act was the soon to follow:

Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Act (1994)–> As with the Elephant Act, the Rhino & Tiger Act started by stating that the Rhinos and Tigers were (under the Endangered Species Act definitions) considered to be endangered.  And once again, the “illegal trade” was most of the problem, and the US had a responsibility here to stop such trade.  Exact wording:  “A person shall not sell, import, or export, or attempt to sell, import, or export, any product, item, or substance intended for human consumption or application containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, any substance derived from any species of rhinoceros or tiger.”  

 This one went a little further in that the US had signed a contract with a bunch of other countries that it would actually destroy any stockpiles of Rhino horns that it found. Personally, I think this was a massive waste of ivory that didn’t benefit the Rhinos and only boosted the black market for their horns (where there is less of an item, more and more people want it).  Whatever you believe, this was a huge situation between US and Chinese/Taiwanese wildlife exporters.  The US actually put into place a ban on Taiwanese exports of wildlife into the US in 1994 because Taiwan had not changed their rules enough to suit the US government.  Nonetheless, there was still a  loophole for sport hunting or “legally taken trophies” here.  This meant that all the little “buddhas” or trinkets made out of ivory, or even the old pianos that had real ivory keys, were still okay for transport if you could show that they weren’t poached ivory.

Everything moved along, with minor disputes arising as to what was ivory, how bad the penalties should be etc. Then the next major change actually showed up this year (2014).  

February 11, 2014, the Department of Interior announced that it was going to officially ban ALL Commercial trade of Ivory in an effort to stop poaching.  This meant that it was taking away the little “Sport hunting”/”Legal Trophy” loophole that was left by previous laws.  It would impact all ivory taken from African Elephants and Rhinos.   Their argument was that the ivory trade was increasing; I would argue that this was a direct result of the rising demand for a suddenly “rare” commodity such as the governments had created with their previous bans.  

PROBLEM: suddenly, picking up little buddha or ivory trinket during your layover in India wasn’t quite so safe as it had been.  It was now going to be illegal to trade in pretty much any type of Ivory. The only exceptions were a “narrow class of antiques” already protected under the original Endangered Species Act (see how the lawyers intertwined these laws!) and those ivory pieces you already owned. Basically, you had to prove that you were exempt and this requirement was getting fairly strict (it had to be imported into the US before 1990 for African Elephant Ivory and 1975 for Asian Elephants).

This has potentially serious impacts on a ton of cultural resources, which is why you are probably still seeing quite a few articles discussing the situation.

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Now, with that extensive background, I bring you the recently decided NJ Rhino Horn Smuggling Case.

In December 2013, Zhifei Li, a Chinese citizen and owner of “Overseas Treasure Finding, pled guilty to smuggling rhinoceros horns from the United States into China.  He apparently paid three different antiquities dealers to assist him in exporting around thirty rhino horns and “objects” made from rhino and elephant horns.  Altogether, the items were worth approximately $4.5 million.  He has just been sentenced to six years in prison and a $3.5 million fine.

Mr. Li was officially tried under the older, pre-2014 amended laws.  But now with the changes, those laws could apply to you to.  So, as I said at the beginning, don’t try bringing in or out anything made of Rhino or Elephant ivory; it’s not worth the battle.

 

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