Two New York-based jewelry dealers have pleaded guilty for offering and selling illegal elephant ivory, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. announced this week. In a public statement, Vance placed the retail value of the small sculptures, charms, pendants, and jewelry seized at $2 million, calling the pleas from defendants Mukesh Gupta and Johnson Jung-Chien Lu "a small, but important, step in protecting endangered and threatened elephant species." New York State law requires anyone attempting to sell ivory and ivory-based goods to obtain a license from the Department of Environmental Conservation and carry proof that the items were made or obtained before Asian and African elephants were placed on the endangered species list in the 1970s.
The case has drawn broad attention to the issue of illegal elephant poaching and ivory smuggling, a niche market that has expanded at a discouragingly fast rate in the past decade. A report by the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species indicates that illegal killing of elephants has steadily been increasing since 2006, reaching its highest level last year since record-keeping began in 1989. Seeking to explain the trend, the report highlights an increasing demand in China and Japan, noting that the wholesale price paid by carvers and ivory processors for illegal raw ivory in China has risen 500 percent since 2002.
According to their plea agreements, Gupta, Lu, and their respective businesses will have to forfeit approximately a ton of ivory goods. This is in addition to a total of $55,000 they will have to pay to the Wildlife Conservation Society, an organization involved in combating the illegal ivory trade and protecting species frequently targeted by ivory poachers. “Poachers should not have a market in Manhattan,” District Attorney Vance said. “This is an international problem that requires local solutions. In order to curb the poaching of elephants in Africa and Asia, we need to curb the demand side of the illegal ivory trade right here at home."