The Golden State’s Elephant Ivory & Rhino Horn Trade

Every day an estimated 40 elephants and two rhinoceroses are poached for their iconic tusks and horns. The demand for ivory and rhino horn products has had an undeniable impact on global elephant and  rhinoceros populations, thrusting these species into the spotlight as flagship species for those advocating  against the illegal wildlife trade. While many Americans may believe that the illicit trade of ivory and  rhino horn only occurs faraway overseas, it has been found that the United States is the second largest  illicit ivory market in the world, second only to Hong Kong. 

While the state of New York holds the title of having the largest and most lucrative ivory market in the  United States, California comes as a close second. The metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San  Francisco have been accredited as some of the most active hotspots for the illegal trade of elephant ivory  and rhinoceros horns within the state. However, the illicit trade of these products are not just isolated  within these areas, with ivory and rhino horn seizures worth millions of dollars being reported in other  major Californian cities like San Diego, San Jose, and more. Some examples include: the 2018 Carlton  Gallery seizure in La Jolla, the 2017 Antiquarian Traders Inc. seizure in Los Angeles, and the 2012 Long  Beach Airport seizure

Illegal wildlife product seizures like these are  hugely important and greatly aid law enforcement agencies in furthering their investigations into illegal wildlife trade syndicates. Seizures like these can alert law enforcement to illegal wildlife trade hotspots, highlight new and existing wildlife trade routes, and expose individuals tied to criminal networks that exploit wildlife for profit.  Furthermore, the profits made from the illicit trade of wildlife products like elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns are frequently used to fund terrorist networks and movements of civil unrest. But without effective legislation, the enforcement  against wildlife crimes is near impossible. 

In 1970, California took its first steps to legally address the issue of  ivory trade occurring in the state by enacting Penal Code §653o. The  law effectively banned the importation of ivory into California until a  later amendment of the law permitted the trade of ivory imported into the state prior to June 1, 1977 with the proper documentation.  However, the import documentation was easily falsifiable, rendering  the enforcement of this law ineffectual and creating a “loophole” that  ivory traffickers could use to their advantage. In 2015, California  Assembly Bill 96 (A.B. 96) was introduced to state legislation, seeking to resolve the legal loophole initially created by Penal Code §653o.  Enacted and codified into the California Fish and Game Code (FGC

  • 2022) on July 1, 2016, A.B. 96 now prohibits the importation, possession, or sale of elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn, and other ivory products (e.g., mammoth tusks, narwhal tusks, walrus tusks, etc.) with few exemptions. 

In theory, A.B. 96’s stricter enforcement capabilities should lead to an increased number of successful  ivory and rhino horn seizures and prosecutions. However, when you search for more publicly-available  information on ivory trade incidents occurring in California, you will find that this kind of information is  hard to come by. Despite knowing that there is an issue of the illicit trade of ivory in California that is  sizeable and concerning enough to rouse Californian legislation to respond in force, so little data-driven  information is available on the subject that these illicit trades are often overlooked. 

To put it simply, the information available to the public does not reflect the true scale of the issues of  elephant ivory and rhino horn trafficking occurring in California. Oftentimes, illegal wildlife trade  information is not available to the public due to privacy protections surrounding open and active  investigations or prosecutions. In addition, there is an impression that news agencies and the general  public have little interest in the subject, thus leading to a lack of reporting of what information could be  made publicly-available. If law enforcement and the media would publicize this information in a more  transparent way to the public, there would be a greater public interest in mitigating the illicit trade of  elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn occurring in our own backyards. 

If you have found yourself on the Global Conservation Force website reading this post, it likely means that you already have an interest in  supporting anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts. While wildlife trafficking seems to be an issue too large for any one person to tackle, you can in fact have an impact on wildlife crime occurring near you. If you see elephant ivory or rhinoceros horn or any other illegal wildlife products being sold in your community, you can report any suspicious activities using the following resources. 

If you have witnessed a wildlife crime occurring in the United States, you can report it to the U.S. Fish &  Wildlife by submitting an anonymous report online here or by calling their wildlife crime tipline at 1-844- FWS-TIPS (1-844-397-8477).

If you have seen suspicious wildlife trade activity within the state of California, you can contact the  California Department of Fish and Wildlife by: 

  • Calling 1-888-334-CALTIP (1-888-334-2258),
  • Texting 847411 with the message format of “CALTIP [insert what you’ve witnessed here], Or by downloading their Apple or Android apps.
Men and women dressed in olive green standing outdoors in the bush listening to their instructor

A cohort of anti-poaching ranger recruits listens to instruction from one of the lead rangers.

Furthermore, if you witness wildlife crime occurring online you can report it to the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online here. Any information shared with the coalition will be sent to the appropriate  authorities for further investigation. And if you wish to make an impact on the illegal wildlife trade at its source, you can support anti-poaching efforts made by non profits like Global Conservation Force by making a donation.

You can be a part of the fight against the international trade of illicit wildlife products and support the conservation of endangered species!

AUTHOR – Haley Holmes


A.B. 96, 2015-16 Reg. Sess. (Cal. 2016). 0100/ab_96_bill_20150107_introduced.pdf 

Fikes, B. J. (2018). La Jolla Gallery Charged in $1.3M Illegal Ivory Ring. The San Diego Union Tribune. 20181128-story.html 

Hance, J. (2015). California Introduces Bill to Close Ivory Loophole. Mongabay. 

Ivory Education Institute, etc. et al. v. State of California etc. et al. (2018). Los Angeles County Super. Ct.  No. BC602584. Natural Resources Defense Council. appeal-ivory-education-institute-v-california-20181101.pdf 

Los Angeles Daily News. (2017). LA Charges 3 Men in ‘Barbaric’ Ivory Trade. Southern California News  Group. 

Martin, E. and Stiles, D. (2008). Ivory Markets in the USA. Care for the Wild International and Save the  Elephants. 

Pepper, E. (2015). California Becomes Third State in the Nation to Ban Ivory Trade. Natural Resources  Defense Council. ivory 


Stiles, D. (2015). Elephant Ivory Trafficking in California, USA. Natural Resources Defense Council. 

United States Department of Justice. (2016). Senior Auction Official at Beverly Hills Gallery Pleads  Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court in Connection with $1 Million Wildlife Smuggling Conspiracy. U.S.  Attorney’s Office – Southern District of New York. official-beverly-hills-gallery-pleads-guilty-manhattan-federal-court 

World Wildlife Fund. (2022). Endangered Species Hub: Elephants. World Wide Fund For Nature. ulations&text=With%20only%2040%2C000%2D50%2C000%20left,species%20is%20classified%20as% 20endangered 

World Wildlife Fund UK. (2022). Fighting to End the Elephant Ivory Trade. WWF-UK. 

trade#:~:text=Elephants%20Under%20Threat&text=Fuelled%20by%20the%20ivory%20trade,elephant% 20poaching%20in%20Africa%20soared 

World Wildlife Fund UK. (2022). Top 10 Facts About Rhinos. WWF-UK. 



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