Trenton, NJ: From left, New Jersey state director Kathleen Schatzmann, of The Humane Society of the United States; Kate Dylewsky of Born Free USA; Elephants DC president and founder Jen Samuel; Assemblyman Mukherji; Assemblyman Gordon; artist Miriam Seiden of Lambertville; Marianne Romano representing Hopewell Valley Community Bank; and Iris Ho of Humane Society International.
A New Voice Worth Hearing
Since then, we've had the pleasure of talking more with the Assemblyman about the bill. Right away, it was easy to see why many are calling him one of the state's fastest rising stars. First, it's hard not to be wowed by a striking bio that includes (among other things) putting himself through college at 15, starting multiple successful businesses by 19, earning two graduate degrees, and being elected as one of New Jersey's youngest legislators at age 28. (And oh, did we mention he's also performed on Broadway?)
But great leaders are more than a great resume, of course. Assemblyman Mukherji has a gift for cutting to the heart of issues and eloquently highlighting why people should pay attention to things that, on the surface at least, don't seem to affect them. He's a powerful voice for his generation and others. And he's got a lot of compelling reasons why the people of New Jersey need to support this landmark bill to end the state's ivory trade.
Here are just a few of them:
Promoting Responsible Commerce by Severing Links With Terrorism
In our interview, Assemblyman Mukherji stressed the alarming connection between elephant poaching and terrorism, as powerful links have been made between terrorist syndicates such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram and the illegal ivory trade, which helps fund their kidnappings, murders, and attacks.
"I'm an animal lover," Assemblyman Mukherji said. "But that's not the only reason to support this legislation. If you are in favor of responsible commercial activity, you should be supportive of this legislation. I'm a former sergeant in the Marine Corps reserve who served in military intelligence as a reservist, and this legislation has implications for national security given the ties between terrorist organizations and poaching profits."
Closing the Gateway for the Second Largest Ivory Market in the World
At first, the elephant poaching epidemic might seem to be a far away problem, with elephants killed on the plains and forests of Africa, and much of their ivory ending up in Chinese shops. But Assemblyman Mukherji points out that the problem is actually much closer to home. As he put it, "Some people are surprised to learn that despite the [limited] ban on ivory importation that went into effect a few decades ago, the United States remains the second largest market for ivory in the world after China."
And New Jersey in particular plays a role in this market because of its ports, where a large amount of illegal ivory regularly enters the country. (For an example that the illegal ivory trade is alive in New Jersey, just recently, an antique dealer in Newark admitted to being the mastermind of an international smuggling ring for ivory and rhino horns.)
"I'm so proud of the role that our ports play in our national economy," said the Assemblyman. "Unfortunately, they're a hub for illegal wildlife trafficking. And these nefarious evildoers are using our state to smuggle raw ivory and other illegal wildlife products into New York City, the number one buyer of ivory within the United States. We want to ensure that there are appropriate penalties in place for contributing to the flow of illegal commerce. That's why New Jersey really is critical to the national effort in closing the ivory market."
Keeping New Jersey's Hands Clean, While Protecting Personal Property
The Assemblyman stressed that the bill's aim is to close loopholes that help keep ivory flowing into the economy (at the elephants' expense) -- but not to punish citizens who already own ivory legally (such as ivory they inherited from a family member). As he put it, "We're prohibiting people from selling, offering for sale, purchasing, bartering, or possessing with the intent to sell any ivory products or rhino horn. So the mere possession -- if it's not in the stream of commercial activity -- is not going to be penalized here."