Wildlife advocates, government officials and activists gathered in Times Square this morning to witness the destruction of over one ton of confiscated ivory to send a message to elephant poachers and ivory traffickers that such crimes will not be tolerated by the United States. The "Ivory Crush" event, organized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, also sought to educate consumers and urge them to boycott products made with ivory. Hundreds watched as ivory tusks, statues and other trinkets were loaded into an industrial rock crusher and pulverized. The symbolic ceremony comes on the heels of China's announcement several weeks ago about its intentions to wipe out its domestic ivory trade. China is currently home to the world's largest ivory market while the United States is second on the list.
If you’re wondering why the ivory wasn’t just sold to raise funds for wildlife protection, we have to admit the same question crossed our minds too. While at today’s event, we learned that the ivory being destroyed could not be sold on the U.S. market because it was illegally traded. Most of the more than one ton of ivory that was crushed was seized from the Philadelphia store of art and antiques dealer Victor Gordon, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $157,500 for smuggling the ivory into the United States. In addition to the legal impossibilities of selling the ivory, the USFWS wanted to send the message that all ivory is worthless – unless it is attached to a living elephant.
“Crushing ivory in Times Square – literally at the crossroads of the world – says in the clearest of terms that the U.S. is serious about closing its illegal ivory markets and stopping the demand,” said John Calvelli, Wildlife Conservation Society executive vice president for Public Affairs. “We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service and DEC for their efforts to close this deadly trade that is currently decimating Africa’s elephants at the rate of 96 each day.”
Fueled by the growing demand for ivory, elephant poaching is now at its highest level in years and it’s estimated that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks. The African elephant is already an endangered species and poachers are killing them at a faster rate than they can reproduce, meaning that if action is not taken swiftly, we may not be able to see these majestic creatures roaming the Earth for much longer.
While eradicating the demand for ivory in order to protect an endangered species might seem like common sense, saving elephants isn’t the only reason to devote resources to the cause. The gunmen who murder these creatures also take human lives in the process, shooting down park rangers who work to protect the animals. The illegal ivory trade has also been linked to terrorist groups and is often a way for these factions to raise funds for their activities. So shutting down the ivory market is important not only for the safety of elephants but also for our own.
Speakers at the event included Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior; Dan Ashe, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Grace Meng, U.S. Congresswoman (NY); John Calvelli, Executive Vice President, Wildlife Conservation Society; Major Joseph Schneider, NYSDEC Division of Law Enforcement Acting Director and Brad Hoylman, State Senator, New York.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help end the trade of ivory in the United States and abroad, the answer is simple: boycott products that are made of ivory and urge others to do the same. If there’s no one to buy it, no one will go through the trouble of obtaining and selling it.
Photos: Yuka Yoneda