In 1989, Kenya burned its entire stockpile of ivory confiscated from poachers or illegal traders. On November 14th, nearly 25 years later, the United States took similar action, dropping some six tons of confiscated ivory, worth millions of dollars, into a rock crusher.
Why would a poor nation, or a rich one for that matter, intentionally destroy something worth millions of dollars? To make a symbolic point. The illegal ivory trade is responsible for an accelerating and alarming number of elephant deaths, currently estimated at between 30,000 and 35,000 elephants per year. Unless this rate of loss is reduced, outside of closely guarded reserves, free-roaming elephants will be eliminated from the wild in approximately 10 years.
But there is also a deeper problem. Why has nothing improved since Kenya first highlighted the illegal ivory trade with its symbolic action over two decades ago? The answer is simple – because the legal ivory trade provides a “laundry” in which poachers sell their illegal wares, making enforcement of trade restrictions highly complex and difficult. If we are truly going to change this situation, we have to address both the illegal and legal trade and eliminate both. Hopefully, the United States’ “Ivory Crush” indicates the start of a sincere effort to eliminate all trade in ivory and save the elephant. Twenty-five years of attempting to regulate this trade has proven an abysmal failure, as the United States’ six-ton stockpile of confiscated ivory amply illustrated. Only a complete ban of the ivory trade will fix the problem.
Elephant tusks, and the art works made from them are indisputably beautiful. Yet, this beauty quickly fades when one realizes that these tusks and carvings represent the deaths of elephants and their lucrative sale provides the motivation for the ongoing elephant slaughter. I was able to attend the event, which took place in Denver, Colorado. Here are just a few shots of what I saw.
Witnessing the United State’s first Ivory Crush, I was stuck by two competing thoughts. The beautiful carvings show one side of the human sprit – our incredibly artistry. However, they also show our darker, selfish, or thoughtless side in that each artwork was only possible because an elephant died at the hands of a poacher. Though it seems incongruous to celebrate the destruction of artwork, in this case, it felt good to watch these carved tusks become dust. The truer expression of the human sprit comes through the celebration of living animals. The elephant itself is more impressive, more compelling, evocative, and beautiful, than anything we might carve out of its dead body parts. In the destruction of this ivory, there is hope that we might practice self-restraint and learn to treasure free-living wildlife as more than something to be made into a pair of earrings or a bracelet.
Living elephants are much more. Let’s save them by putting the ivory trade behind us. Defenders of Wildlife is actively working to address the harmful impacts of the illegal and legal wildlife trade on elephants and many other species. Join in this effort by calling on your Congressional representatives to place a complete ban on the sale or trade of ivory products.
Jay Tutchton, Staff Attorney