Obama Administration to Destroy Ivory Stockpiles

The six tons of ivory currently held in Denver will be crushed next week

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Erik De Castro / REUTERS

A back hoe crushes confiscated smuggled elephant tusks at the Parks and Wildlife center in Quezon City, Metro Manila on June 21, 2013. The U.S. will destroy its 6 tons of ivory on Nov. 14, 2013.

The Obama administration has a message for consumers and vendors of illegal ivory: the United States will not stand for poaching.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is hoping that the message is heard loud and clear when they use a rock-crusher to pulverize six tons of ivory the government has seized over the past 25 years on Nov. 14.

At the national wildlife repository in Denver, hordes of raw and carved tusks, ivory ornaments, and jewelry will be destroyed in the Obama administration’s latest effort of promoting wildlife conservation. The African Conservation Act largely banned imports and exports of the material in 1989 after a surge in poaching wiped out nearly two-thirds of the African Elephant species. Since, the U.S. has been seizing ivory at borders, shipping ports and other points of entry.

“We are taking an important step next week, said Daniel Ashe, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at a press event at the Foreign Press Center on Tuesday. “We’re doing that in the hopes of raising the profile of this issue and also to try to inspire other nations around the world to deal with their stockpiles.”

Though the crush is the first American ivory destruction, other countries have been destroying the material for some time. Over the summer, the Philippines crushed and burned 5 tons of ivory from its stockpile to prevent officials from stealing and selling the material on the black market. In 2011, the Kenyan president also burned their ivory to send a message to poachers, though fire alone doesn’t destroy the material.

Ivory has been estimated as worth more than cocaine and gold on the black market, with annual revenue of about $10 billion. Destroying the stockpiles, officials say, is intended to show poachers and traders that ultimately there is no market for the material. “There shouldn’t be a value on ivory,” Ed Grace, the deputy chief of law enforcement at the Fish and Wildlife Service, told TIME.

The American ivory stockpile represents a mere fraction of the tons of ivory that exists on the global market. Despite the ban and the increase in information on the impact of poaching, the illegal ivory trade has exploded.  In 2011, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES), illegal trade of ivory was at its highest level in nearly 20 years thanks in large part to the increase demand and the involvement of organized crime groups.

“With rising affluence throughout the world there’s an increasing demand for wildlife products,” said Ashe. “As much as we have struggled with that issue in the United States we see that struggle globally. This is not the trafficking that we’ve seen in the past, this is trafficking that seems to be very sophisticated, highly organized.”

The global marketplace is dominated by East Asia, where the nouveau riche consider acquiring ivory products a status symbol and countries across Africa, where thousands of elephants have been slaughtered and funneled through organized crime groups. Traditional poachers have been replaced by dangerous organizations like the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Congo and the Somali al-Shabab that sell the ivory from elephant tusks for the purchase of weapons.

The Obama administration is hoping that their efforts, including the Executive Order issued by President Obama in early July to curb poaching and protect endangered species, and next week’s crush, will discourage the traders and encourage other countries to act.

16 comments
DanielStiles
DanielStiles

The stated purpose for doing this is, “We [USFWS] want to send a clear message that the United States will not tolerate ivory trafficking and the toll it is taking on elephant populations…”, and that the action will tell criminals that the U.S. will aggressively go after them for killing elephants for profit.

            Admirable, but will destroying ivory get that message through to poachers, ivory traffickers and the workshops in East Asia and elsewhere that buy smuggled raw ivory?

            I doubt it. I have been carrying out ivory trade investigations for almost 15 years, financed in large part by the organizations that have been promoting ivory stockpile destruction, which is linked to their fierce opposition to any kind of legal ivory trade. Their lobbying resulted in ivory stockpile destruction in Kenya (2011), Gabon (2012) and the Philippines (2013), and they are vigorously working on several other countries to do it. The three governments all stated that the purpose “was to send a message” to those killing elephants for ivory.

Elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have increased since 2011 according to the U.N.’s recent Elephants in the Dust report(which I co-authored).

            Apparently, a different message must have been sent to the criminals, as ivory bonfires and steamroller crushings have not deterred them. Having studied at close quarters elephant hunters since the 1970s as an anthropologist, and having investigated elephant poachers, ivory middlemen, workshops and retail outlets since the 1990s in Africa, Asia, Europe and the U.S., I believe I know what message they are receiving.

             The message is: Ivory is scarce and with stockpile destruction is getting scarcer. The three since 2011 have taken over 32 tons of ivory out of circulation, enough to feed China’s 37 legal ivory factories for five years. Now the U.S. government plans to reduce potential global supply by another six tons. That means, with demand remaining stable, ivory prices will increase. Evidence is that raw ivory prices in China have doubled since 2011, according to my sources. Poachers and those paying them now have increased incentive to go out and kill more elephants.

Ivory workshop owners in high ivory consumption countries such as China and Thailand have already begun buying any and all African ivory they can get their hands on. If stockpiles are going to be destroyed, and legal ivory is unavailable, and more illegal shipments are being seized because of more vigilant law enforcement, workshop owners realize they need to stockpile as many tusks as possible for future use, because the senseless system now in operation in which domestic ivory markets are legal while raw ivory to supply them is illegal is guaranteeing extinction of the elephant. Those with the most tusks will make the biggest profits as the price of ivory goes through the roof with the demise of the elephant.

            Why is this economically absurd system in place? Because those advocating it know almost nothing about how the ivory industry operates. For the most part they are zoologists and animal welfare people, whose expertise lies elsewhere. They have not engaged in objective, data-driven research of ivory markets, and they have not learned from scientific published reports on the subject. They speak from preconceived ideology and opinion, not from knowledge.

            USFWS have never destroyed ivory before and one must ask why are they doing it now? Because they are acting on public opinion, not on scientific knowledge, in violation of their responsibility to conserve wildlife.

            The U.S. media and the biggest non-governmental conservation and animal welfare organizations in America have mounted a massive campaign to create awareness among the public about elephant (and rhino) poaching. The Obama administration (Presidential Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking) and the Clinton Global Initiative to prevent elephant poaching have taken concrete steps to save elephants. The public is demanding action.

            In response, USFWS will crush seized ivory, almost certainly sending a message to criminals that they had better step up their killing of elephants before all the ivory is gone.

CherylRirie-Kurz
CherylRirie-Kurz

Somehow I can't help but respond that I wonder if this is the way to encourage education and preservation, compassion and rightful treatment of the elephants...might not the ignorance of their needless suffering be further driven by the rarity of ivory (and the higher price it might bring?) that may result in destruction? Is destruction an answer....or is this an act of people trying to control other people -- control the situation vs. themselves and what they can do? I will be contemplating this all day. Something doesn't feel right to me about this. There really should be some other way.....put it in a museum....honor it...create a worldwide traveling and educational campaign around it....teach people in this traveling exhibit how to carve in other mediums....we need to create, not destroy. I cannot find harmony in this act... 

jetbhart
jetbhart

What a shortsighted "solution" that will soon be forgotten-except by those who regret the destruction of the Library in Alexandria, or the destruction of the giant Buddhas of Afghanistan.  Why not encase them in a Lucite cube, or set up some sort of permanent memorial display at the Smithsonian or other museum so that millions can see the tragedy of the numbers of God's creatures who were butchered so that some fools could have some one night stand (in theory).

MajikImaje
MajikImaje

I live in the Arctic regions of Alaska. Unemployment is 70% and higher in the remote villages;  Ivory is the only way many families have to generate an income.  We find ivory washed up on shores of the beaches.  We purchase ivory @ 5 times the current rate - just to survive.  It is a darn shame that this ivory will be turned into "dust" .  I am willing to pay for the "dust".  If that were possible - many familes would have plenty of material  to use to make gorgeous works of art. All you need is massive amounts of super glue to make that "dust" useable  to create stunning works of art.  RECYCLE that dust  and send it to ALASKA!    please- read - A Blog of Ice

edmundcharles.55
edmundcharles.55

I do not think that destroying ivory or firearms or illegal drugs, etc- is going to discourage anyone from an already illegal activity.   In fact, it merely increases the demand as sully shrinks.   How do you change human thinking and behavior?  No one knows and despots over the eons have been trying without much success to more than temporarily change the habits and desires that inhabit the soul.  I do not think that ivory holds any fascination for the majority of U.S. citizens,   it is more a desired product in the Far East.  Elephants and other ivory bearing animals do not grow ivory fast enough for it to be harvested as a renewable resource and not enough animals die annually to satisfy the market.  A repeat of the whale oil industry where they killed off the goose that laid the golden egg cannot be allowed to occur so I am unsure if any sort of a manageable solution can be engineered.

1sunnyjay
1sunnyjay

PLEASE consider that such action will increase the market value of existing ivory and thereby the incentive to poach!  Consider selling it at a very low rate to dilute the market and use the proceeds to fund anti-poaching measures!

yogi
yogi

Pfft, everybody knows rhino horn needs to be crushed up to work anyway, they're just speeding up the process.

MelindaMueller
MelindaMueller

I'm sorry, but this theory of "flooding" the market holds no water.  There are not enough elephants left alive in the world today to flood the market sufficiently to drive down the price enough to make ivory worthless to Chinese consumers.  Their fascination with ivory is cultural; however, most Chinese do not understand that the elephant dies a horrible death in order for ivory to be harvested.  Many believe that elephants shed ivory like deer shed horns, so education in China is key.  Crushing the ivory is like burning drug seizures....the death and destruction and sorrow it represents dictate that it be destroyed in a dramatic and very final manner.  Bravo to Fish and Wildlife Service for this very significant gesture against ivory trade and the slaughter of elephants.

MelindaMueller
MelindaMueller

Rhino horn doesn't "work" anyway....it's just keratin, like our fingernails, and the consumers of horn are ignorant and supersitious in equal parts.  Why they don't just use viagra and actually get results is beyond me.  And ivory is used for carving, and is not crushed and then consumer by anyone, so exactly what are the parallels?  Really, if you haven't something useful to say, don't bother.

MajikImaje
MajikImaje

@MelindaMueller 

Ivory is a huge business here in Alaska - We specialize in Ivory that has been fossilized for over 25,000 years.  Fresh Raw Walrus ivory is worthless -  it cannot be used to carve with.  We use fossilized ivory that has been found or washed up  on beaches all over the coastline of Alaska.  My 4 sons are the # ivory carvers in Alaska for ten years now.  We cannot use fresh walrus ivory - it is  too soft.  We use Mastodon & Mammoth Ivory and Fossil Walrus Ivory -  these animals died thousands of years ago -  SO educated yourself in what Ivory is before you make statements that don't even make any sense.  It is a darn crying shame to see all of this go to such waste when so many familes here in the arctic cannot get a job. Unemployment is 75% and higher in these small remote villages.  Ivory Arts & Crafts are the only source available to many families. To learn more visit A Blog of Ice.

MajikImaje
MajikImaje

@MelindaMueller  I will purchase that crushed up destroyed Ivory and can easily make gorgeous bracelets & ear-rings  just by using the fine powdered "dust" that will still be available.

It is a shame so many people are so ignorant of what Ivory is and how valuable it is here in Alaska. People pay huge money for artifacts and carvings made out of Ivory. RECYCYCE!!  All I need is lots of super glue to put that Ivory back into a usable substance that can't be discerned from the actual ORIGINAL form to make a sale-able product.  tisk tisk is  right!! what a waste!!

xreon
xreon

@DeborahKingstonn

Actually its not since the ivory used in Arctic regions comes from Walruses and mammoths that have been dead for 10,000 years.

chrisjcrowther
chrisjcrowther

@blackrosefarms @MajikImaje @MelindaMueller 

Alright, I NEVER post on these chat boards.  I lived in a town/village/etc. (Port Clarence) in the Arctic Circle of 23 people (not a typo).  The next nearest towns were a plane ride (Brevig Mission and Teller) and 300 people deep in those towns.  Nome Alaska was "the big city" of about 3,000 people.  I am not a native Alaskan, I am a 14 year active duty Coast Guardsman.  The locals in the villages do not have the option to "go to the grocery store", they can't raise cattle, sheep, or nearly any other animal, gardens don't grow in 60 below zero and when it warmed to 50 in the summer... the tundra was still frozen.  You better believe that these little villages hunted/fished what was available (bear, musk ox -last resort-, seals, whale, fish, etc.).  This may be embedded with tradition, but having LIVED there as an outsider - this was necessary for survival.  When you have to pay freight charges to Hagland or Bering Air for milk and the like, meat can cost upwards of $25-$30 per lb and it certainly would not be fresh. 


As a NON-HUNTER (only took pictures) the comment above sounds very ignorant having lived in a culture who otherwise couldn't survive.  Would love to discuss it in detail if you are interested, but I fear that you have your mind made up to be judgmental.  I'll tell you that the natives were the most resourceful, recycling, use EVERY bit of the animal type people I have ever met.   What is your experience with this?  Maybe you have another point of view that I am unaware of?  Just an outsiders thought.

blackrosefarms
blackrosefarms

@MajikImaje @MelindaMueller  I guess you want money to buy powerful outboard motors and high-powered rifles so you can engage in the killing of endangered bowhead whales in the specially privileged continuance of your "ancient" tradition.

I have no doubt that those who profited from slavery made similar monetary complaints when slavery was outlawed.


DeborahKingston
DeborahKingston

@MajikImaje @MelindaMueller Majiklmaje, your purchase of ivory is sending the elephant to extinction. There was a day when we could say the elephant is " on the verge of extinction " now it's just a short matter of when. Please, we do not need trinkets made of a once very alert, caring and self aware sentient such as the elephant. They have families too... you know.