Elephant, © Kelsey Schwende

Ivory Crush

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.

Tusks at ivory crush, © Defenders of Wildlife

Tusks waiting to be placed in the rock crusher in the background.

Confiscated ivory, © Defenders of Wildlife

Carved Ivory Confiscated by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

Carved tusks, © Defenders of Wildlife

Elephants carved from the tusk of a poached elephant.

Ivory jewelry, © Defenders of Wildlife

Ivory jewelry waiting to be crushed.

Tusks in rock crusher, © Defenders of Wildlife

Tusks placed in front end loader for dumping in the rock crusher.

Ivory going into the crusher, © Defenders of Wildlife

A load of ivory about to be placed in the crusher.

Second load of ivory, © Defenders of Wildlife

Elephant tusks are so sturdy that some survive passage through the rock crusher’s initial process.

Ivory fragments, © Defenders of Wildlife

At the end of the crushing process, however, only small pieces remain.

Handful of ivory fragments, © Defenders of Wildlife

A handful of elephants.

Carved ivory fragment, © Defenders of Wildlife

Fragment of a carved tusk.

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

9 Responses to “Ivory Crush”

  1. P. Dyer

    Glad to see the U.S. doing the right thing in destroying this ivory-hopefully it WILL be the start of a broader crackdown on poaching and illegal trade before it’s too late for these iconic animals..

  2. Marlene McGovern

    Aloha. All I need to state is printed above. What a selfish waste. Enough is enough.Giving the Ivory artists something to create from their own culture is more productive and Humane. A true Artist does not kill or have blood on their hands.
    Mahalo nui loa for All your work in protecting what is left, that belongs on uor planet as much as humans. Aloha

  3. LoveYourDNA

    Bravo! However, the US is not the one to blame or have it’s hands dirtied by this. That is the work of the Chinese. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Their ancient customs and traditions and their primitive beliefs that animal parts will cure them of their ills is the problem. This is what happens when you keep your people poor and ignorant. The abuse and destruction of animals all over the planet are a direct result of uneducated ignorance.

  4. Larry Higgin

    The market is there despite this symbolic message. There is now a 6 ton void that will be filled. Instead of destroying the tusks ID them, sell them at auction and register the owners name with the understanding that they cannot be resold. Then take the millions of dollars generated and spend it on elephant conservation. The wanton waste of 6 tons of ivory which thousand of elephants were killed for seems like a silly way to prevent further poaching. The only message poachers take away from this there has been a sharp decline in supply and demand just went up.

  5. Linda Allan

    Although I am glad that the US crushed the ivory stockpile to bring attention to the plight of the elephants, the action is hypocritical until legal sales of ivory in the US are banned. Thanks for the article that so clearly states the problem. We must all work together to save this magnificent animal.

  6. Roxanne

    I agree with Larry Higgin on this one except for “sell them at auction and register the owners name with the understanding that they cannot be resold”. If they have it it will be resold and for a higher price! But for the rest of his statement I agree!

  7. Liz Edwards

    I’m glad the US is doing something about this. Now if only the rest of the world would listen! China, I’m talking about you! Medicine, my ass! Now that Black Rhinos are on the extinction list, meaning Gone, Wiped out, History, we need to end killing any animals for any reason. From food on up to medicine, jewelry, hoodoo voodoo, whatever. That’s what plant life is for. We consume, one way or another, way too many animals. They are not for us to kill. We don’t have to be carnivores; or even omnivores. We don’t need their skins. We can use plant fibres like hemp, cotton,etc. We don’t need their teeth (ivory). There’s tons of other jewelry already out there. Keep jewelry to rocks and stones. And China! Stop using ivory and bear bile in your medicines. Stick to plant material. Aaw, it’s too late now anyway. No one is listening. All they hear is the sound of money.

  8. La Marca Monique

    Stop the ivory trade and rhinos horns…cruel people and for money! Poachers must be severely punished, put into jails and have a heavy fine.

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