Ivory crush signals US determination to tackle wildlife crime
The ivory tusks, trinkets, statues, jewelry and other decorative items were crushed in Times Square, while thousands of people gathered to watch.
“The United States has sent a strong message that it will not tolerate wildlife crime,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of WWF-US. “For Africa’s vanishing elephants, these are the most desperate of times and more needs to be done. Just last month, China – another major consumer market for wildlife products – announced it would end its ivory trade. The US must do the same, urgently.”
The Times Square ivory crush builds on momentum from a previous destruction of six tons of contraband ivory in the US state of Colorado in November 2013. Since then nine other countries have publicly destroyed ivory, including China, Kenya, the Republic of Congo and the UAE in just the past few months.
While the impact of these destruction events on ivory markets and prices need to be monitored, they are symbolically important. They are also part of a growing international response to the global poaching crisis, which is threatening the survival of elephants and other species across the globe as well as security, rule of law and sustainable development – a crisis that is fuelled by demand for illegal wildlife products.
Most of the crushed ivory was confiscated from an art and antiques dealer in Philadelphia, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay US$157,500 in fines in 2014 for smuggling African elephant ivory into the country. It was one of the largest ivory seizures ever in the US. The rest was seized in operations by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
“Many Americans don’t realize that the US ivory market is one of the largest in the world, or that its epicenter, until recently, was right here in New York City,” said Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defence Counsel. “This ivory crush, together with tough state and federal laws cracking down on the illegal ivory trade, send a strong signal that the United States wants no part in this trade that is so devastating to wildlife.”
Although some African elephant ivory (including lawfully hunted trophies and certain other noncommercial items that meet specific requirements) can be imported, the US prohibits commercial imports and further regulates domestic trade of both raw ivory and ivory products.
The government is currently evaluating ways to further strengthen its elephant ivory trade controls. Meanwhile, the states of New York and New Jersey have already enacted strong laws to ban the sale of ivory, and other states, including California, are currently considering legislative bans.
“By destroying this ivory in New York’s Times Square, one of the most recognized and visible places in the world, we are lending the elephant crisis the kind of global platform it deserves,” said Dr Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. “With every ivory crush and every piece of federal and state legislation that bans ivory trade, we are sending a message that the United States is not just crushing ivory but crushing the trade for good.”
The ivory crush was the latest in a series of actions by the Obama administration designed to address both the demand and supply that feed international poaching and wildlife trafficking rings, which increasingly involve transnational organized crime.
In July 2013, President Obama signed an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking. The order established an interagency Task Force which has outlined a robust, whole-of-government approach that focuses on three key objectives to stop wildlife crime – strengthening enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife, and expanding international cooperation.
Law enforcement efforts include recent expansion of the Service’s presence overseas by full-time placement of personnel in Thailand, and impending placement of personnel in Peru, Botswana, Tanzania and China.
In addition, collaboration between conservation organizations, government agencies, private organizations and local communities supports on-the-ground initiatives to conserve and manage wildlife through improved anti-poaching patrols, monitoring, habitat management, community-based initiatives and other effective conservation programmes.
The high-profile, public ivory crush was organized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society – and supported by several of the world’s most prominent wildlife conservation NGOs, including the African Wildlife Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Natural Resources Defense Council, and WWF.