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.