New Jersey is on the verge of becoming the second state to ban the importation, possession and sale of African big-game “trophy animals” threatened with extinction.

Legislation that bans the trafficking of African species such as elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos, as well as tigers, cheetahs, pangolins, marine turtles or rays, was approved overwhelmingly Thursday, as lawmakers concurred with changes recommended by Gov. Chris Christie in a May 2 conditional veto.

The ban would not apply retroactively to animal parts already possessed in New Jersey, but the law’s intention is to cut down on the estimated 126,000 trophy animals imported into the United States each year.

“Trophy hunters, stay out of New Jersey,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen, said he visits Kenya often because his son started a project 14 years ago building schools in that country. He said the decrease in wildlife has been noticeable.

“The Kenyan economy depends on live wildlife, not dead wildlife. People come from around the world to do safaris in Kenya and Tanzania and many African countries, and the world feeds those people by going as tourists,” Eustace said. “The more lions we kill, the more rhinos we kill, the more elephants we kill, the less those people can feed themselves.”

Violators would be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $200 and not more than $1,000 for the first offense, and not less than $500 and not more than $3,000 for each subsequent offense. There could also be criminal penalties, including third-degree crimes for sales of $500 or more.

Ninety-six elephants are killed a day in Africa, amounting to 35,000 a year, and that they are being poached faster than they’re being born, said Jen Samuel, president of Elephants DC. She said there are only an estimated 20,000 lions left in Africa.

“So with New Jersey taking action to protect nine endangered species today, it shows it is the leader in the global movement to save endangered species from extinction while we still can,” Samuel said.

“It’s absolutely unpardonable in this day and age that we can’t get our ya-ya’s in other ways,” said Asher Jay of National Geographic. “We have technology. We’re supposed to be innovators. We’re supposed to be intelligent as a species.”

New Jersey is a significant hub for trophy animal imports at Port Authority of New York and New Jersey seaports and international airports such as Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia, though the proposed restriction in those ports won’t take effect unless New York passes the same law.

Even if it takes effect, the Port Authority restriction – which would be a fourth-degree crime – would apply only to animal parts destined for a location in New Jersey or New York, not those intended for someplace outside those states.

New Jersey becomes the second state to ban trophy animals, along with Washington.

In 2014, New Jersey became the first state to ban ivory imports.

Lesniak said he didn’t think Christie would sign the bill and was “very pleasantly surprised” when he agreed to with changes the senator says improved the bill. He said “threw in the kitchen sink” in the original bill by including dozens of other threatened and vulnerable species and requiring registration.

“With regard to endangered species, at least in terms of wildlife, he’s on our side,” Lesniak said.

Sign up for the WPG Talk Radio 104.1 Newsletter

Get South Jersey news and information e-mailed to you every week.