Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep has voiced her support for a bill aimed at combating ivory trafficking in the state of New Jersey, urging Governor Chris Christie to sign it into law.
“As a New Jersey native I was delighted to learn from my friends at The Humane Society of the United States that our state could be the first in the country to enact a ban on the importation and sale of ivory – a product of horrific cruelty to elephants and rhinos, who could very well become extinct within decades if we don’t act now,” Streep said in a statement.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species said that more than 20,000 elephants were killed for their ivory last year. The numbers are even higher according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They estimate that 35,000 African elephants were slaughtered in 2013.
The conservation group Save the Rhino International reports that the total population of rhinoceroses living in the wild has plummeted to a mere 29,000 worldwide. Any species with ivory teeth or tusks, such as rhinoceroses, elephants, and walruses has become increasingly threatened by the ivory trade.
Co-sponsored by Jersey City Assemblyman and former deputy mayor, Raj Mukherji and state Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, the bill prohibits anyone from selling, offering for sale, purchasing, importing, bartering or possessing with intent to sell any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn or rhinoceros horn product.
In addition to the impact it can have on wildlife, Mukherji, who is also a former marine, said the bill strengthens the country in its fight against terrorist organizations. Mukherji said that it is great to have someone like Streep support this bill.
“Although she’s a great actress, I’m a little tired of seeing her win Oscar after Oscar. Let’s spread the wealth a little bit,” Mukherji joked. “But I can never get tired of a celebrity lending her voice to the chorus of support for a measure that cuts directly into the poaching profits, which funds the operations of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Janjaweed.”
According to Mukherji, Al-Shabaab generates approximately $600,000 per month from the ivory trade. “With New Jersey ports serving as a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking and our proximity to New York City, the largest ivory buyer in the country, we needed to act now,” said Mukherji. “The most effective way to discourage illegal trafficking is to eliminate markets and profits for the traffickers,” he added.
The bill moved through the Legislature quickly, taking only a month and a half from the first committee hearing to the final approval. Supporters say time is of the essence. “With raw ivory selling for approximately $1,500 a pound the black market trade is thriving,” said state Senator Lesniak. “An estimated 35,000 elephants are slaughtered in Africa alone. At this rate, elephants will be killed into extinction within 20 years,” he added.
Under the New Jersey bill, ivory taken not only from elephants, but from other animals such as walruses and whales, would also be regulated. Hopefully, the bill is passed quickly and New Jersey sets a precedent for new laws in other states.
“Governor, you have my full support and I hope you usher this critical bill through without delay,” said the multi-award winning actress Streep.
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