HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii remains one of the nation's major markets for ivory, and unrestricted online trade in ivory and related wildlife products are rampant in the state, according to a new investigative report.
Even to industry professionals, Hawaii's lust for ivory was startling.
"Having a small island, with a relatively low population, be a hotbed for activity for ivory and wildlife trade really kind of takes your breath away," said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The study, released by a consortium of environmental groups including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, shows that black market sales of ivory can be made relatively easily in the islands.
In a six-day snapshot investigation conducted in December, the groups found more than 1,800 ads for ivory jewelry, carved walrus tusks, and scrimshawed elephant toenails. More than 4,600 items, worth more than $1.2 million, were offered for sale.
And only one of 47 retailers in the state were able to provide legal documentation for the import of ivory.
Online marketplaces have been a boon for illegal ivory sales. And law enforcement struggle to regulate them.
That's why environmental groups are pushing the state to pass legislation that would ban all sales of ivory.
Senate Bill 2647, which is moving through the state Legislature, would do just that. A first-time conviction would carry a $200 penalty and possible jail time. Subsequent convictions would result in greater fines and time.
Under current law, African elephant ivory that's at least 100 years old or that was imported in 1990 or earlier can be sold in the islands. The problem is that dating ivory is difficult. Documents can be forged to claim ivory being sold complies with the law.
One group estimated that as much as 85 percent of ivory sold in the islands is illegal or of unknown origin.
Flocken says eBay's move to stop selling ivory in 2008 proved a pivot point in the fight. But having state legislation is key in the fight.
"It's really Hawaii's turn," he said. "They're what we really consider to be the most significant remaining market in the U.S."
The other top markets in the nation -- New York and California -- have already passed bans.
Read the full report here.