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Billy Joel welcomes New York Senate’s approval of ivory ban

Elephants in Namibia. Photos by Rhett Butler

Musician Billy Joel has weighed in on the ivory bill making its way through the New York State legislature.

On Thursday, the legendary hitmaker voiced support for the bill, which would bar the purchase and sale of most elephant ivory in the state.

“I wholeheartedly support the ivory sales ban bill pending in New York State,” Joel wrote on his blog.

“I am a piano player. And I realize that ivory piano keys are preferred by some pianists. But a preference for ivory keys does not justify the slaughter of 96 elephants every day,” he continued.

“There are other materials which can be substituted for piano keys. But magnificent creatures like these can never be replaced.”

“Music must never be used as an excuse to destroy an endangered species. Music should be a celebration of life – not an instrument of death.”

Joel’s comments came a day after the New York State Senate approved a bill that bans the trade of ivory antiques in the state. The measure came just days after the New York State Assembly passed a similar bill. It now goes to Governor Cuomo.

Conservationists have been pushing the bill as a way to help cut demand for ivory, which is driving the large-scale slaughter of elephants across Asia and Africa. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which is running the “96 Elephants” campaign referenced by Joel, estimates that up to 35,000 elephants are killed each year for the ivory trade. Most of the ivory is consumed in East Asia, but substantial amounts are also purchased in the United States. New York is the largest importer of ivory into the United States, followed by California.

WCS says New York’s move may hasten further action at the federal level.

“This state legislation will enhance federal efforts to tighten the ivory trade ban on a federal level,” the group said in a statement. “It also sends a clear signal that actions connected to the poaching of elephants and rhinos are serious crimes. They demand tougher penalties which we hope to see in the final state ban.”

The sentiment was echoed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“As the first state to pass a ban like this, New York is paving the way for the rest of the nation to follow,” said Elly Pepper, Wildlife Advocate at NRDC. “The brutal and ongoing practice of slaughtering African elephants for their tusks may seem like a world away, but New York is one of the biggest drivers behind the demand. By making it harder for traffickers to sneak illegal ivory onto the market here, we can help ensure that zoos won’t be the only place our children can find the elephants in the future.”

According to NRDC, recent polling suggests 80 percent of New Yorkers support the ban.

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