Wikimedia Commons
Ivory horn on display at the Louvre (Wikimedia Commons)

A public hearing was held Wednesday on a bill that would prohibit the sale in Connecticut of products made out of ivory and rhinoceros horn.

A federal ban on elephant ivory enacted in 2014, puts some limitations on the commercial sale and non-commercial possession of ivory products, but Connecticut’s bill, Raised Bill No. 6955, would go significantly further.

As written the measure specifies that “No person shall import, sell, offer for sale, purchase, barter or possess with the intent to sell, any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn or rhinoceros horn product.”

The bill defines ivory as “any tooth or tusk, or any part thereof, that is composed of ivory from any animal, including, but not limited to, any elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, narwhal, walrus or whale or any piece thereof.”

Animal-rights activists spoke vociferously in favor of the measure, and though antique dealers and museum operators testifying before the legislator’s Environment Committee were sympathetic to the plight of elephants and rhinos, they urged lawmakers to alter the proposal.

Charles Mathes, president of Visibles Inc., a publisher and licenser of fine art, said the measure would “literally take money out the pockets of collectors.”

“Of course everyone wishes to save the elephants, but making it impossible to buy or sell ivory that was made into artifacts a hundred years ago benefits no one — including elephants,” he said.

Susan Talbott, director and CEO of Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, suggested the bill be tweaked to allow museums to acquire antique ivory artwork, and to redefine the term antique, as it relates to ivory-based products, to objects created prior to 1976.

Should the bill pass as it is written, “The Wadsworth Atheneum would not be able to acquire important artworks made with or from ivory, nor would the institution be permitted to participate in international exhibitions and loans with foreign lenders,” Talbott told committee members.

Connecticut has a long and complicated history with ivory, as Jody Blankenship, executive director of the Connecticut Historical Society told committee members Wednesday.

“In the 1700s lasting through World War II, the village of Ivoryton and other areas in the lower Connecticut River Valley held a monopoly on the importation and manufacture of ivory products in the United States,” she said. “This industry led to the exploitation of the African Bush Elephant and enslavement of thousands of humans. Our history reveals the negative outcomes of the ivory trade and how consumer demand for ‘exotic’ materials can lead to the endangerment of a species.”

Amy Gagnon, a historian from New Britain, told committee members that local towns with a history in the ivory trade have attempted to make “reparations” for acts she called “inhumane and illegal.”

“A little over a century ago, 90 percent of the nation’s ivory came into the country via Deep River and Essex. In these quaint Connecticut towns at the mouth of the river, thousands upon thousands of tusks made their way to our shores and people made fortunes from this ivory,” she wrote. “Today, we witness the consequences of this on a regular basis as town leaders, residents, and descendants of the families who facilitated the ivory business in Deep River and Essex strive to make reparations to this dark history through education, programs, and awareness.”

Allen Sandico, CEO of the Seattle-based Tusk Task Force, said in written testimony that the black market in ivory has helped fund terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

“Connecticut has the tremendous opportunity to mitigate the funding of terrorism by banning all commerce related to ivory and rhino horn,” he said.

Both New York and New Jersey already have bans on ivory products in place. Several other states, including Oregon and California, are considering a similar ban.