SAN DIEGO (CN) - A sting operation resulted in the seizure of more than 300 ivory items worth $1.3 million from an upscale antique store -- the largest ivory seizure since a statewide ban went into effect in 2016, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and California Senate President pro tem Toni Atkins announced Wednesday.
Elliott’s office filed charges this week against Carlton Gallery, an antique shop in the well-to-do La Jolla beach community in San Diego after officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife executed an undercover operation in May that led to the confiscation of the ivory items.
Elliott and Atkins made their announcement at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey exhibit, where African bush elephant Shaba interrupted the press conference at one point by trumpeting.
Fish and Wildlife officers purchased an ivory sculpture from salesperson Sheldon Miles Kupersmith, who offered to sell them other sculptures containing ivory. A search warrant was executed following the transaction, with officers seizing 146 items containing ivory from the gallery and another 192 from a warehouse, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Most of the items were made of ivory from elephants, but some contained ivory from hippopotamus teeth. Elliott said “no one knows how many animals were killed to produce that amount of ivory.”
If convicted, Kupersmith and gallery owner Victor Hyman Cohen face years in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
California’s ban on the sale of ivory items, authored by Atkins, went into effect in 2016.
AB 96 was numbered intentionally, Atkins said Wednesday, to represent the 96 elephants killed in the wild every day.
According to the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy, elephants will be extinct in 10 years at the current rate of poaching.
“California is the fifth largest economy in the world; it is the largest state, and one of the largest states that had ivory for sale. If we can make a difference in our state, in the United States and keep people from poaching and killing these absolutely magnificent animals that’s what we’re here to do,” Atkins said, calling the prosecution “exactly” what state legislators intended in crafting the bill.
The ban outlaws the sale of ivory teeth and tusks from elephants, hippopotamuses, mammoths, mastodons, walruses, warthogs, whales and narwhals, as well as rhinoceros horn. A small exemption includes musical instruments made of less than 20 percent ivory and manufactured earlier than 1975, as well as antiques made of less than five percent ivory that are more than 100 years old.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.