The U.S. government has committed to publicly destroying six tons of African and Asian elephant ivory

Posted on 11 November 2013  | 
The U.S. government has committed to publicly destroying six tons of African and Asian elephant ivory, all of it confiscated within national borders. The ivory will be crushed at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver, Colorado on November 14, 2013. Federal agency representatives, range state ambassadors, congressional delegations and journalists have been invited as observers. It will be an opportunity to highlight the heightened interest, both in the U.S. and globally, in stopping wildlife crime.
1. WWF welcomes the destruction of nearly six tons of illegal elephant ivory seized in the United States, which reinforces the strong message that the U.S. does not tolerate ivory trafficking.
2. With over 30,000 elephants slaughtered every year just for their tusks, WWF is calling on the United States government to crack down on wildlife trafficking and enact a moratorium on ivory trade in the United States.
3. Behind every piece of ivory—every tusk, trinket and souvenir seized right here in the U.S.—is a dead elephant. Any purchases or sales of ivory fuel the current poaching crisis. WWF urges the U.S. and other countries fuelling the elephant poaching crisis to take all available measures to disrupt and prosecute those who prey on and profit from the slaughter of these magnificent animals.
Wildlife crime is deadly serious.
• Global wildlife crime is among the top five international illegal crimes. Estimated at around 10 billion dollars annually, it is increasingly controlled by the same criminal networks smuggling arms, drugs and humans.
• Increased wealth in Asia is opening up new markets for illegal wildlife products. Growing demand in China, Vietnam and Thailand is driving unprecedented poaching of elephants, rhinos and tigers.
• Lax customs and law enforcement are allowing criminal syndicates to smuggle contraband across borders by land, sea and air, and making illicit profits available to finance other illegal activities, such as corruption, money laundering and arms and drug trafficking.
• Right now, there is no effective deterrent to illegal wildlife trade because high level traders and kingpins are rarely arrested, prosecuted, convicted or punished for their crimes.
Wildlife crime harms people too.
• Park rangers and communities living near protected areas are ill-equipped and inexperienced to tackle armed and ruthless poachers. Poaching syndicates have changed the way they operate and are now using sophisticated weaponry and equipment to increase their take and avoid detection (helicopters, veterinary drugs, night vision equipment).
• Wildlife poaching steals from people and the planet.
- When poaching occurs across borders as happened in Cameroon earlier in 2012, gangs of heavily-armed poachers empty protected areas of wildlife. This constitutes a threat to territorial integrity, security, and constitutes an invasion and natural resource theft.
• Criminal kingpins involved in illegal wildlife trade are distributing guns, intimidating communities, exploiting the poor, and bribing officials in order to get what they want.
Stop wildlife crime.
• Left unaddressed, wildlife crime allows organized crime to flourish, fuels regional conflicts and even terrorism.
• WWF’s goal for this campaign is to turn a high-profit, low-risk crime into a low-profit, high-risk liability. We’re dead serious about stopping wildlife crime.
• Why destroy the ivory?
• Couldn’t the ivory be resold to pay for conservation instead?
• What is the value of the seized ivory?
• Where was the ivory seized?
• What will happen to the crushed ivory?
• Is the U.S. a big part of the problem?
• What really needs to happen to stop illegal ivory trafficking in the U.S.?
• Is there really a poaching crisis?
• What else WWF doing to stop wildlife crime?
Why destroy the ivory?
Destroying seized ivory is a way to raise awareness of the poaching crisis. Kenya burned its seized ivory in 1989 when it was campaigning for the ivory ban and, in 2011, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force oversaw the burning – also in Kenya – of part of an illegal ivory shipment seized in Singapore a number of years earlier. Gabon burned its ivory following an independent audit by WWF and TRAFFIC in 2012. The Philippines, which like the U.S. represents a market for illegally acquired elephant ivory, crushed more than five tons in June 2013.
Couldn’t the ivory be resold to pay for conservation instead?
Under CITES rules, ivory that has been seized (i.e. is of illegal origin), or ivory that is of unknown origin cannot be sold legally internationally for commercial purposes. It is similar to seized drugs in that it has no legitimate monetary value and is best destroyed. This is particularly the case in countries where the security of seized ivory is of concern. There were several major thefts of ivory from government facilities in 2012.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service will not sell confiscated wildlife derived from ESA or CITES Appendix I listed species as a matter of principle and policy. It is extremely difficult to differentiate legally acquired ivory, such as ivory imported in the 1970s, from ivory from poached elephants. USFWS criminal investigations have also shown that legal ivory can serve as a cover for illegal trade. For these reasons, seized ivory is not allowed to enter the marketplace.
What is the value of the seized ivory?
Illegal ivory or ivory that is of unknown origin cannot be sold legally internationally for commercial purposes. It is similar to seized drugs in that it has no legitimate monetary value and is best destroyed.
Where was the ivory seized?
Some of the ivory was smuggled into US in large quantities and some was intercepted on its way out of the country or being sold unlawfully in interstate commerce. Some arrived in the U.S. without the appropriate permits or was brought back by travelers who did not know or follow wildlife laws and regulations.
Despite the 1989 commercial ban on ivory in the U.S., there have been dozens of seizures. One of the biggest illegal ivory busts in the history of New York took place in Manhattan in July 2012. Two million dollars of illicit ivory was seized by law enforcement from two antique stores. Store owners were fined less than $55,000 each.
What will happen to the crushed ivory?
The USFWS is still determining what to do with the crushed ivory and is considering a number of proposals. WWF supports use of the ivory in a way that educates the public about the elephant crisis.
Is the U.S. a big part of the problem?
The ivory crushed in Denver represents a mere tip of the iceberg compared to the ivory being bought, sold and smuggled in and out of the country. The United States is the world's second largest market for wildlife products, including elephant ivory, and enforcement becomes complicated once ivory crosses our borders.

Despite a ban on international commercial trade in ivory since 1989 through CITES, there remain considerable challenges to enforcement of U.S. laws, including a mishmash of state laws and a federal loophole that allows ivory owned before 1989 to be legally sold. Smugglers take advantage of the system to sell poached ivory as carvings, jewelry and other trinkets. There are multiple U.S. online auction and fashion websites utilized to sell illegal ivory, including which earlier this year updated its policies to ban the trade of snow leopard fur and elephant ivory.
What really needs to happen to stop illegal ivory trafficking in the U.S.?
WWF and other conservation organizations are calling on the U.S. Congress to enact new legislation to ensure that no elephant ivory can be sold on the U.S. market until such time as poaching is no longer a threat to elephants in the wild. While the Obama Administration has the power to impose an interstate moratorium on ivory sales, which would significantly reduce the ability to sell ivory products on the US market, only Congress has the power to impose a true national moratorium on ivory sales.
Is there really a poaching crisis?
The poaching and illegal ivory trade is at a record high according to data from Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) indicate. The worst poaching is taking place in Central Africa. The ivory transits through East Africa, Southeast Asia or Hong Kong, with China and Thailand being the biggest and second-biggest illegal consumer markets.
What else is WWF doing to stop wildlife crime?
WWF is leading a global campaign to stop wildlife crime with a focus on elephants, tigers and rhinos.
In the past year:
• We mobilized 1.6 million people to successfully urge the Thai Prime Minster to ban ivory trade.
• We helped engage high-level champions, including former US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the cause.
• We audited Gabon’s seized ivory and supported its destruction to send a strong message of zero tolerance.
• With Google, we are testing new technologies to help rangers stay ahead of the poachers.
• Alongside faith leaders from around the world we are calling on the faithful of many religions to reject ivory and other illegal wildlife products and parts.
• The White House appointed WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts and several others to the Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, which will work closely with and advise the President’s Task Force in developing a national strategy on wildlife trafficking.
We continue to back rangers in protected areas that are increasingly vulnerable to ruthless and dangerously armed poachers. We are advocating to enure laws against poaching and trafficking to be implemented—and prosecuted—to their fullest extent. And with TRAFFIC, we are monitoring and analyzing trade routes and transfer points to cripple both supply and demand, while also launching long-term demand reduction campaigns in high-demand countries like China.
WWF and TRAFFIC fund and/or implement a wide range of projects aimed at securing effective protection for elephants in the wild.
• Enforcement: WWF provides direct law enforcement support at the protected area level, and WWF and TRAFFIC also work to ensure appropriate deterrents (i.e. following prosecutions), as well as providing enforcement support (informant networks, etc.) in transit and demand countries.
• Policy: WWF and TRAFFIC also work on national and regional policy (such as driving the establishment of a Central Africa Wildlife Law Enforcement Action Plan, adopted by eight Central African countries) as well as working to close legislative loopholes that facilitate illegal ivory trade (such as Thailand’s legislation which allows ivory from domestic Thai elephants to be sold legally).
• Capacity-building: WWF and TRAFFIC provide capacity-building and training support to governments across the trade chain, including training customs officials, policy and judiciary, as well as wildlife personnel.
• Demand reduction: WWF and TRAFFIC are working to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products such as ivory.
• Monitoring: TRAFFIC is also engaged in monitoring trade with a view to identifying sources of, and markets for, illegal ivory worldwide, as well as identifying trade routes and trends.
• CBNRM: An effective strategy that WWF is currently employing against poaching is Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM). In this approach communities benefit in terms of livelihoods and incomes from elephants, and therefore value them. The result in Namibia and elsewhere has been active community support for anti-poaching activities, leading to drastic declines in poaching and population increases in these areas.

The ivory will be crushed at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver, Colorado on November 14, 2013.
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