A stockpile of elephant ivory in a Denver warehouse is set to be crushed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, November 14th.
More than six tons of seized tusks and carvings at the National Wildlife Property Repository will be destroyed in an attempt to draw attention to a global poaching crisis that has decimated the population of African elephants.
“By destroying our domestic stocks of ivory, we send a very clear signal that these illegally-traded products should not be perceived as items of value,” Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources, told reporters last week in a press briefing.
Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said during the briefing that “we are taking an important step next week, where the U.S. will be destroying its stockpile of ivory at our National Wildlife Repository in Denver, Colorado. We’ll be crushing six tons of ivory, which we have confiscated over many years as a result of law enforcement efforts. And we’re doing that in the hopes of raising the profile of this issue and the attention that—of the issue, both domestically and internationally and also to try to inspire other nations around the world to deal with their stockpiles of ivory. We have to get ivory out of trade so that we can better identify and take enforcement actions against illicit trade.”
Ashe goes on to explain that an observed elevation in sophisticated poaching and trafficking is cause for both concern and action.
“And so much as we have struggled with that issue here in the United States, we’re seeing increasingly as a struggle globally going on as we have growing populations and populations that are growing affluence. And we—in the course of the last year to two years, we have seen dramatic escalation in wildlife trafficking. And this is not the trafficking that we have seen in the past, which have been more opportunistic, locally driven. This is trafficking that seems to be very sophisticated, highly organized, syndicated trafficking. We need really a multipronged effort to be successful here.”
Dreher also said in the briefing that this isn’t just about elephant ivory.
“It has an enormous humanitarian and conservation perspective with the catastrophic losses of African wildlife and of other species that are trafficked. This is not just about elephants and rhinos, although those are the most visible. There are ocean and maritime species that are affected; there are species in the United States that are subject to illegal traffic.”
NBC news reports that the U.S. is the second-largest market for contraband ivory.
“What’s more, anti-poaching advocates will have to contend with the voracious appetite for accessories and art made from ivory in Asia—especially in China, which represents the largest market for illegal tusks and carvings, said Samuel Wasser, the director for the Center of Conservation Biology at the University of Washington.
For many people in China’s swelling middle- and upper-classes, ivory items have become “important signifiers of wealth and status,” Wasser said, adding that ivory pieces can be found on a wide array of tchotchkes and trinkets, from necklaces to knife handles.
And yet it’s not just Asia feeding the demand. The U.S. is the second-largest retail market for contraband ivory— just behind China, according to data provided by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
At least 1,165 ivory specimens were seized by U.S. border agents and inspectors between 2009 and 2012, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). And that figure only covers the contraband detected and confiscated by officials—likely just 10 percent of the actual amount circulating among retailers and merchants across the country.”
Although President Obama, in July, called on U.S. agencies and the international community to prevent the slaughter of protected wildlife, halt trafficking and curb global demand for ivory, these instrumental U.S. moves still face extraordinary challenge.
The Obama administration also pledged to give $10 million to help push back against plundering in Africa, and has called on Asian governments to ban baubles and ornaments made from ivory…
“We are being outgunned right now by these criminal syndicates,” Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, said at a Sept. 9 event at the White House at which the Denver crush initiative was announced. “They have night vision goggles, they have helicopters, they have lots of sophisticated arms.”
“One of the key tools at our disposal is going to be technology and inventing new ways to catch the bad guys before it’s too late,” he added.
Some organizations advocating for action, such as the IFAW, have called for a freeze on ivory sales in the U.S. until there is a more efficient means of determining what’s antique (and therefore legal) and what’s illicit.
We need a “moratorium on ivory until elephants are protected or regulations in the U.S. are enforceable,” said Beth Allgood, an IWAF spokeswoman.
Allgood said the crush in Denver is expected to send a powerfully symbolic message regarding America’s fight back against ivory as a valuable commodity.
“As long as ivory have any value, elephants will be in danger,” she said.
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