NEW YORK – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe and other leaders to destroy more than one ton of confiscated elephant ivory in New York’s Times Square, sending a clear message that the United States will not tolerate wildlife crimes that threaten to wipe out the African elephant and a host of other species around the globe. The crush was conducted in partnership with the State of New York, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (Manhattan).
Secretary Jewell, who serves as chair of the White House Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, Director Ashe and thousands of onlookers witnessed an industrial rock crusher, generously donated by Powerscreen, crush raw and carved ivory tusks and statues. The event was the latest in a series of actions by the Obama Administration designed to crack down on both the demand and supply that feeds international poaching and wildlife trafficking rings.
“Today’s ivory crush serves as a stark reminder to the rest of the world that the United States will not tolerate wildlife crimes, especially against iconic and endangered animals,” said Secretary Jewell. “The message is loud and clear: This Administration will stop the poachers in their tracks, stop the profits and work with our international partners to protect our global natural heritage.”
The Times Square ivory crush builds on momentum generated by the FWS’s initial destruction of six tons of contraband ivory in November 2013. Since then, nine governments have followed suit to destroy ivory. Campaigns to reduce demand for ivory domestically and overseas and to strengthen international laws and enforcement have further elevated the issue of wildlife trafficking globally.
In July 2013, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking. The order established an interagency Task Force and charged it with developing a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. With input from an advisory council of experts on wildlife trafficking, the Task Force set forth a robust government approach that focuses on three key objectives to stop wildlife trafficking: strengthening enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife, and expanding international cooperation.
“Regardless of their country of origin, we all lose if elephants, rhinos, tigers and other iconic animals disappear. The only way we will save them is together through a concerted global effort to end the scourge of wildlife trafficking and the devastation it brings to these animals,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Today, the United States underscored its commitment to winning this fight, and we call on all nations to join us by destroying their confiscated ivory stockpiles, enacting and enforcing strong regulations protecting wildlife from illegal trade, and reducing demand.”
“Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, New York has taken a stand against a dangerous and cruel industry by strengthening criminal and civil penalties for ivory buyers and sellers whose actions are endangering elephant populations worldwide,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens of New York’s 2014 law banning the sale of both elephant and mammoth ivory. “New York is proud to host today’s ivory crush—a clear reminder that we will not allow the illegal ivory trade to continue in the Empire State. I urge other states and nations to follow New York’s lead and join us in working to protect these endangered species for generations to come.”
“Today, we are not just crushing illegally poached ivory; we are crushing the bloody ivory market,” said WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper. “We are crushing any hopes by the poachers that they will profit by killing off our Earth’s majestic elephants. This international and violent crime is threatening the elephants as well as people and communities, and the United States continues to show great leadership with today’s ivory crush in Times Square. Criminals, take notice.”
Event attendees included Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-6); Congressman Steve Israel (NY-3); U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske; Executive Vice-President of the Wildlife Conservation Society John Calvelli; New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (Manhattan); Major Joseph Schneider, Acting Director, Division of Law Enforcement at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; and noted celebrities.
“I wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to request an ivory crush in Times Square in my district because New York City is the epicenter of the illegal ivory trade. An elephant is killed every 15 minutes,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman. “If we are to protect this magnificent species from extinction we need to raise awareness about the trade of illegal ivory and choke off consumer demand. I applaud the Obama administration, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for their steadfast commitment to ending the trade of elephant ivory and thank the Times Square Alliance for their support of today’s historic ivory crush in Times Square.”
“Today’s ivory crush in Times Square demonstrates to the world that New York and the United States are committed to eradicating the illegal ivory trade,” said U.S. Rep. Israel. “I am proud to be a leader in Congress on preventing wildlife trafficking and will continue working to protect these vulnerable species and stop the flow of funds to terrorist networks.”
“Today’s ivory crush is a huge boost in raising greater awareness about the cruel and horrific practice of elephant poaching, and it will remind the world that the U.S. will continue its fight against wildlife trafficking,” said U.S. Rep. Meng.”It also sends the message loud and clear that this type of illegal activity will not be tolerated. I thank Secretary Jewell, Director Ashe, WCS, State Senator Hoylman and all who played a role in organizing this important event, and I applaud all who are taking part in it. In addition to the conservation issues, ivory trafficking is directly tied to the funding of transnational terrorism and crimes. This is why each year since I was elected to Congress, I have led the bipartisan charge for funding critical global biodiversity and conservation programs affecting wildlife trafficking.”
Much of the ivory destroyed at today’s event was confiscated from the Philadelphia, Pa., store of Victor Gordon, an art and antiques dealer who, in 2012, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to smuggling African elephant ivory into the U.S. The seizure was one of the largest of elephant ivory on record nationwide. Other ivory crushed today was seized in other operations by the FWS, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Los Angeles Police Department. All ivory that has been illegally traded can never be sold in the U.S. market.
African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and further protected under the African Elephant Conservation Act. Trade of these animals and their parts is also regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – a global agreement through which the U.S. and 180 other nations work to protect species at risk.
Although some African elephant ivory (including lawfully hunted trophies and certain other noncommercial items that meet specific requirements) can be imported, the U.S. prohibits commercial imports and further regulates domestic trade of both raw ivory and ivory products. The FWS is currently evaluating ways to further strengthen its elephant ivory trade controls. Many states, including New York, have also enacted strong legislation to ban the sale of ivory.
Law enforcement efforts include the recent expansion of FWS’ presence overseas by placement of full-time personnel in Thailand and impending placement of personnel in Peru, Botswana, Tanzania and China. In addition, collaboration between conservation organizations, government agencies, private organizations and local communities supports on-the-ground initiatives to conserve and manage wildlife through improved anti-poaching patrols, monitoring, habitat management, community-based initiatives and other effective conservation programs.
For more information about today’s event, including high-resolution images, b-roll and messages from supporters of the crush, and to learn more about the plight of African elephants and global efforts to save them from poachers and the illegal ivory trade, visit http://www.fws.gov/le/
The following organizations, critical in the fight against wildlife crime, also partnered to undertake today’s ivory crush: the African Wildlife Foundation, Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund.