A 71-year-old man is one of the first to be charged under a new ivory-trade law in the US state of Washington after authorities seized 1,600 items, suspected of containing ivory. The man was caught following an undercover operation, in which a detective responded to an online advert on Craigslist – which detailed the sale of old Japanese carvings called ‘Netsukes’.

This terminology is often used by traffickers who don’t want it to be known that they are selling ivory. Netsukes refers to Japanese miniature carvings made from wood or ivory. The suspect, Donald Rooney, in the advert claimed to have 50 miniatures.

When the undercover officer in plain clothes went to a house in Everett, which Rooney claimed was his, she found that every inch of the dining and living area was covered in trays, containing items which seemed to have been carved ivory. Some of them were even labelled ivory. Rooney claimed he had inherited the items from his sibling and relatives.

Everett media publication ‘Herald Net’, published parts of what was revealed in the charge sheet against him.

“Rooney told [the detective] he had already sold a good number of ivory pieces and wished [the detective] could have seen how many he had before. Rooney said he believed he had over 1,000 pieces before he started selling them,” the charge sheet states.

The detective chose three items at the house, paid for them in cash and left. Later, tests were carried out which showed they contained the DNA of African elephants.

Rooney was charged under the new ‘Washington Animal Trafficking Act, which makes it illegal to sell, buy or trade parts of rhino, elephant, tiger, lion and other vulnerable species.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the African elephant population has dropped significantly due to massive poaching in Africa. In the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3 to 5 million African elephants, but now there are around 415,000 left. African elephants continue to be poached by the tens and thousands each year for their ivory tusks despite a ban on the international trade of ivory.

David Barritt, chief campaigner for Network for Animals (NFA), welcomed the new law and praised the police action. “NFA works hard in Africa protecting elephants for poachers, it is heartening when we learn that US authorities are helping stamp out this abhorrent trade, which will certainly result in elephants becoming extinct in the wild, if not halted.“