After digging from state to state for ivory bills, it's been a disappointment to me that Kentucky has no such legislative discussion. As far as I know, the topic of the ivory trade, whether legal or illegal, has not even come up in either house. Thus, I believe it's time for this conversation to begin. Kentucky needs to vote on ivory.
Kentucky, believe it or not, is an ivory port. Several years ago the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated several cities throughout the country to serve as ports that wildlife products could be brought for testing and documentation. These include Baltimore, Miami, Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle. There are 18 ports total, and Kentucky happens to host one of them: Louisville.
So what happens at these designated ports? Well, wildlife products can be brought to be tested and documented for international travel (or just to have government documentation that they're legal). The documents certify 1) that your item is legal in your country, 2) that it has been approved for travel outside your country, and 3) that it can be brought back into your country when you return. These are all important for those individuals who perform or exhibit abroad with items containing ivory (such as a musician or collector).
Because Kentucky has an FWS port in Louisville, ivory items can be brought into the state for proper documentation. This means there is legal ivory traffic happening in our state. But because we host an international airport, it is entirely plausible that there is illegal traffic happening also. This is a concern.
"Things made out of ivory can be made out of other things...There are different ways of doing things and for the sake of elephants and rhinos, we need to fight and find that way."
What can we do?
1. Contact your legislator
Because legislators are the ones who write, vote on and pass the laws, it's important for us to be in contact with our district representatives and senators. I have personally contacted six legislators, both in my home district and in Northern Kentucky, to bring the ivory trade to their radar. Each state representative and senator has a listed email and phone number to contact.
2. Raise awareness
Just as your voice matters, so do the voices of others. Educating your friends and community about the ivory trade and the critical endangerment to keystone species is very important, and so easy! Organizations like
3. Be a responsible consumer
Just because there's a piece of ivory in an antique store, that doesn't mean it's actually old. In many U.S. cities elephant ivory is sold right alongside fossil ivory, and consumers don't know the difference. Only by having ivory professionally tested can you truly tell the age and origin of the piece, which is expensive. So I would encourage you to hold off on buying ivory, unless the seller can produce legal documentation that the piece is actually an antique.
4. Encourage partnerships.
We have several connections to elephants and rhinos in African and Asia, who can help gain awareness and support for ivory legislation in Kentucky. Companies like MaxCare Carpet Cleaning in Louisville, KY have elephants as their mascot, Other organizations, like the Louisville Zoo already speak out for conservation, so by partnering with them we can create awareness in our state.
While Kentucky may not be one of 20+ states who have proposed ivory legislation, we can help it get there. At the current rate of poaching, elephants could be extinct in as few as 11 years, and rhinos could disappear even sooner. Because it is our money that helps drive this illegal trade, it's up to us to stop it.
When the buying stops, the killing can too.
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.