Crushing Demand for Ivory


Frank Pope, COO

Date Published

The market for ivory is destroying one of the world’s greatest natural treasures, the elephant. That the largest animal still to walk the earth could disappear within our lifetime is bad enough. Worse yet, the profits of the illegal trade in ivory are fueling organised crime and are thought to be funding the activities of the terrorist group Al Shabaab, responsible for last month’s atrocity in Nairobi.

Far Eastern demand is usually singled out for blame but the United States has the second largest retail market for ivory products, as identified by a 2008 report sponsored by Save the Elephants and others. Legal loopholes and poor enforcement have led to a market that is contributing to the problem.

On Tuesday 8th October, the US government is taking a stand. Following big speeches and public commitments for funding, huge rock pulverisers will roll into action in Denver, Colorado, and crush over 5 tonnes of carved and raw ivory. The pieces, seized by authorities over the last 25 years, may be worth as much as US$12 million. US officials are calling for other nations to destroy their own stockpiles and so demonstrate their commitment to a unified global effort to combat poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.

“We’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked,” said Save the Elephants CEO Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who will be in Denver, Colorado, to witness the historic moment. “For a time the ivory trade ban was very successful in East Africa but now with the rising ivory price more extreme solutions are required.”

“We’re reaching out to everyone in the world not to buy sell or wear ivory. The destruction of these tonnes of ivory is a powerful symbol that places the ivory forever beyond the reach of the commercial sector. It’s the kind of radical thinking that is necessary if we’re going to save the elephants,” he continued.

The US interior secretary, Sally Jewell, announced the crush last month.

“Rising demand for ivory is fuelling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent,” she said. “We will continue to work aggressively … to disrupt and prosecute criminals who traffic in ivory, and we encourage other nations to join us in that effort.”