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Connecticut's Role in the Global Ivory Market

Jessica Kurose

Our state’s ivory trade started in the 1700s with the hand crafted hair comb until the process was later mechanized. In the mid 1800s, some of the ivory factories started venturing into the musical industry as demand rose for pianos and their ivory coated keys.


At their peak, the town of Deep River and the village of Ivoryton (the “company town” for an ivory production firm) were processing 90 percent of all the ivory imported into the country. From 1840 to 1940 the United States was the largest consumer of ivory in the world.


Thousands of tons of ivory were transported from Africa to Connecticut to supply the demand for toiletries (like combs and toothpicks), piano keys, billiard balls, jewelry and other household products. As a result, hundreds of thousands of elephants were killed.


In the 1900s the ivory trade began to decline as the elephant population diminished. The last shipment to Ivoryton was delivered in 1954.


Tusks in Zanzibar, heading to Ivoryton

Photo Credit: Ivoryton Library Association

The Current State of the Elephant and the Ivory Trade

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a global treaty regulating endangered fauna and flora, that includes the ivory trade. Since the treaty first went into effect in 1975, the Asian elephant has been listed as Appendix I, the most “at risk” category for species threatened with extinction. The African elephant was moved to Appendix I in 1989, and a worldwide ban on elephant ivory was put in place.


Unfortunately, pressure from some countries in southern Africa and Asia changed the African elephant to Appendix II in certain areas. Those lobbying for fewer restrictions on the ivory trade argue that well-managed populations are stable, and allowing some legitimate ivory sales helps fund conservation efforts while discouraging illegal trade.


Conservationists do not agree. Allowing the legal trade of ivory legitimizes the exploitation of these animals and causes an increase in demand as well as an outlet for the laundering of poached ivory.This puts both Asian and African elephant populations at risk.


In the United States, the African elephant has been listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1978, which still allowed for some regulated trade. In 1988 the African Elephant Conservation Act was passed by Congress. In 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revised a rule under the ESA for the African elephant, and the ivory trade was restricted even further. Currently under the Trump administration, the Obama-era ban on importing elephant “trophies" was lifted, and hunters are now allowed to bring African elephant “trophies” back to America in some cases.


On a local level, it was only as recent as March 2017 that Connecticut passed a substitute House Bill (sHB 6335) with stricter regulations, but the bill was not passed by the General Assembly.[1] 

Take Action. What You Can Do.


The poaching of these creatures must end now or they will cease to exist in the wild! In many areas elephants are being killed faster than they can reproduce. Trade regulations are weak and have loopholes, and enforcement is difficult. Anti-poaching efforts have proven inadequate in stopping the illegal activity.


In the United States, organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity are petitioning for the African elephant to be uplisted to the “endangered” status which would provide more government sanctioned protections with stricter regulations on the ivory trade.


Globally, CITES tracks and records poaching and illegal trading trends with the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE). Updates to CITES listings and regulations happen every three years at the Conference of the Parties (CoP), with the next one set for May 2019 in Sri Lanka. The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos (GMFER) lobbies CITES for stronger action and the highest protection for elephants, planning actions and marching in over 100 cities world-wide. It is important for raising world-wide awareness on this issue, getting more countries on board to ban the trade of ivory. China has committed to implementing a ban this year, which is a huge step in the right direction.


You can also find many other non-profits doing important work to save and protect these beautiful animals, including the well-known African Wildlife Foundation as well as the World Wildlife Fund.


Note: One of our CT Chapter Sierra Club members, Bill Katz, is organizing the event “Global Concerts to Save Elephants and Rhinos” in Ivoryton to coincide with the next GMFER event. For more information or if you have interest in becoming involved, contact him at


Jessica Kurose is on the editorial staff of this newsletter.

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