The Elephant Activist Revolution, a new student group on campus, has been instrumental in filing House Bill 1052, which calls for the ban of ivory trade in Indiana.
The proposed bill would make the sale, ownership or transfer of products containing ivory or rhino horn a Class A misdemeanor. Senior Jasmine Shaffer said she hopes a bill successfully passed in Indiana would set an example for other states to follow.
Shaffer first learned about ivory trade as a freshman volunteering as a naturalist at the Indianapolis Zoo.
“I absolutely fell in love with the elephants,” Shaffer said. “It wasn’t until then that I learned about the ivory trade and everything that was going on.”
Shaffer said she watched as elephant tusks were trimmed at the Indianapolis Zoo and said occasionally misinformed zoo visitors would see this and ask if the ivory was available for purchase at the zoo.
“Not many people knew how big of a problem it was,” Shaffer said.
The United States follows only China in ivory consumption, according to Elephants DC, a volunteer-based advocacy group. Only three other states — New York, New Jersey and California — have successfully passed legislation banning ivory trade.
After attending a session at the zoo discussing the depth of ivory trade and explaining the manner in which elephants are poached for their tusks in Africa, Shaffer decided to take action and do what she could to help raise awareness about the issue throughout the state, however foreign it might seem to Hoosiers.
Seeking advice from representatives at Elephants DC, Shaffer created EAR at IU at the beginning of the school year, with a goal of raising awareness of the workings of the ivory industry. The club has about 45 members.
“As an organization, to be through the process to ban ivory in Indiana, I think is a very good thing to say you’ve helped with,” Shaffer said.
Soon after establishing EAR, Shaffer was connected with Dustin Thibideau of Ivory Free Indiana, who had already begun work on the bill.
The students assisted Thibideau mainly through calling legislators and potential co-authors for the bill to bring attention to the ivory trade issue.
Shaffer said the organization flooded one representative’s office with 500 calls in one day.
“When we have these things like calling,” Shaffer said. “It’s a simple thing, but it really, really matters.”
While the bill has been stalled and will not likely see a hearing until at least 2017, Thibideau said the students of EAR have greatly assisted him thus far.
“The bill wouldn’t be where it’s at today if it weren’t for them,” Thibideau said. “I owe them a lot of credit. They definitely played a significant part.”
One reason for the bill’s stagnation, Thibideau said, is because the bill is often interpreted as anti-gun legislation and is therefore unpopular among Republicans.
The exceptions for the bill include the horn being used for scientific or educational purposes, having been passed down in a descendent’s estate, being used as a musical instrument manufactured before 1975 or having been at least 100 years old.
However, the bill now has added a Republican co-author since first being filed, which Shaffer said might help make things easier in 2017.
Although Shaffer said she plans to graduate before 2017, she said she would like to stay involved in the EAR program as much as possible.
“I really want to raise awareness on campus,” Shaffer said. “So maybe by next year we can have a lot more people calling.”