Our investigation reveals that Connecticut buyers and sellers are directly contributing to the global illegal ivory trade

January 24, 2024

Shocking undercover investigation reveals illicit elephant ivory sold across Connecticut

Ivory incorrectly labeled; customers told how to skirt federal law

HARTFORD, Connecticut—Today the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International released alarming results of an undercover investigation at 29 Connecticut stores, revealing the illicit sale of elephant ivory, as well as bone and teeth from other imperiled species. Elephant ivory is sourced by chopping the tusks out of these iconic animals sometimes while they are still alive, causing unimaginable suffering and an agonizing death. Young elephants are not spared, and global elephant populations are being devastated by this illicit trade.

The November 2023 investigation revealed over 160 items suspected to be carved from ivory for sale at 19 stores in six Connecticut counties. Shop locations included Clinton, Colchester, Fairfield, Farmington, Norwalk, Old Saybrook and others across the state. Of the 22 towns visited, 15 sold ivory, confirming that Connecticut is a thriving ivory market. Items ranged from a $12 broach to a pair of belt charms for $1,250. Other articles included necklaces, earrings, bracelets, statues, napkin holders, game boards, puzzles, a parasol handle, a page turner and letter openers with elephant imagery carvings.

The Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International investigators, including a wildlife biologist, were given conflicting explanations regarding the origin of ivory items. Some vendors said items were ‘ivory-like’ but did not know what material they were made from. Others were aware they were selling ivory and claimed the pieces were less than 100 years old. Another vendor attempting to make a sale advised the investigator to “wrap it well and just don’t say anything,” and “you can just say you didn’t know it was ivory.” No vendor provided correct paperwork or the required legal documentation for the ivory during potential sales.

Under federal law, new elephant ivory cannot be imported, exported or sold across state lines. Antique ivory can legally be sold if proper documentation proves it is at least 100 years old. Without proof, the ivory is potentially sourced from illegally killed elephants. Federal law does not address wholly intrastate sales within a state, which is why state laws are critical to close the loophole in local markets like Connecticut.

Annie Hornish, Connecticut state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Each year, 10,000 to 15,000 elephants are killed by poachers in Africa to supply the demand for their ivory. Our investigation reveals that Connecticut buyers and sellers are directly contributing to the global illegal ivory trade. We must join the 13 states and Washington D.C. that have passed laws to prohibit the sale of ivory. Connecticut cannot continue to allow illegal ivory into our local markets and perpetuate more elephant deaths and criminal activity.  Lawmakers are doing the right thing by prioritizing this critical issue and introducing a bill that would ban the sale of parts of at-risk species.”

Kathryn Kullberg, director of marine and wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Ivory products are smuggled into the U.S., including new ivory that was recently hacked off the faces of endangered African elephants. Federal law doesn’t cover intrastate sales, which creates a patchwork of legal confusion. If Connecticut passes a state law to help close these loopholes, we can work towards stemming the global poaching crisis. A trinket is not worth extinction.”


  • California, Hawai'i, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Illinois, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington, D.C. prohibit the trade of parts and products sourced from imperiled species, including elephant ivory.
  • In 2016, the U.S. implemented a near-total federal ban on commercial trade in African elephant ivory. A 2017 executive order strengthened law enforcement efforts to combat transnational criminal organizations that take part in illegal smuggling and trafficking of wildlife.
  • Federal laws primarily restrict the import, export or interstate trade of products from endangered and threatened species, but don’t regulate intrastate sales. Many species like elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and sharks are threatened because of the illegal wildlife trade, fueled by the demand for their parts in the U.S.
  • In Africa the population of savanna elephants has declined by 60% and forest elephants by more than 86% since the 1970s, placing them near extinction.
  • Researchers have found that some areas in southern Africa still suffered severe declines from poaching, such as south Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Poaching in east and west Africa, not covered by the study, is also thought to be high.
  • Elephants have strong family bonds lasting generations which results in even more trauma from this pointless slaughter.


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