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Crush the ivory trade, not just the ivory

More than 30,000 iconic elephants are slaughtered annually to feed the world’s appetite for their ivory tusks – and this poaching crisis is escalating. In an effort to focus attention on the enormity of the wildlife trafficking crisis, the fourth largest transnational crime, the United States destroyed its stockpile of nearly 6 tons of illegal elephant ivory products on November 14th. Other countries must follow suit and destroy their ivory stockpiles to demonstrate that ivory is not a luxury item. In the wake of the historic ivory crush, the United States must follow up with strong policies that will help crush the ivory trade and bring an end to the poaching crisis.

Destroying ivory stockpiles

The ivory crush not only reinforces the U.S. government’s support for global wildlife conservation efforts but also sends a strong diplomatic signal to the rest of the world that more must be done to protect elephants and other threatened animals from extinction. Simply put: the U.S. ivory crush is more than promises and words on paper. By physically destroying the ivory, which represents dead elephants, the ivory crush brought global attention to the illicit wildlife trade threatening wild elephants and well as rhinos and other species.

In addition to destroying its own stockpile, the United States has also called on other nations to destroy their own ivory stockpiles and take an international collective stance to combat wildlife trafficking. Elephant range states, such as Kenya and Gabon, have burned their ivory in the past, and earlier this year the Philippines became the first consumer nation to crush its own stockpile. If elephant range states, trafficking transit nations and consumer countries joined together to destroy their ivory stockpiles, this would speak volumes to the global community that ivory should not be a market commodity -- living elephants are worth much more.

Combating wildlife trafficking through the U.S. Executive Order

A longstanding leader in global wildlife conservation, the United States’ concern about wildlife trafficking and the poaching crisis has been mounting over the past two years, particularly with leadership from Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and others in the Administration. Additionally, more evidence for and concern with wildlife trafficking’s connection to terrorism and national security highlights that the poaching crisis is not just a conservation issue, but also a security, economic, health and social concern.

In July, President Obama signed an [Executive Order on Combating Wildlife Trafficking] to develop a high-level, multi-agency Presidential Task Force with a non-government appointed Advisory Council tasked with creating a National Strategy to combat wildlife trafficking, domestically and internationally. The strategy is expected to be finalized by the end of 2013 – and the contents therein will dictate how the United States tackles the battle against wildlife trafficking.

We hope this strategy has teeth, including continued inter-agency collaboration; intelligence-led enforcement efforts to disrupt trafficking networks; serious demand reduction efforts; plans to “follow the money;” on-the-ground support; and focused international dialogue. As a key element of these efforts to reduce demand, disrupt the trade, and set a global example, we urge the United States to implement a moratorium on domestic ivory trade – an important action that would build upon the messages of the ivory crush and close loopholes in U.S domestic legislation that allow for illicit trade to continue.

Shutting down domestic ivory markets

Any country that truly wants to change the fate for elephants should enact a domestic ban on ivory trade. At the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in September, leaders from seven African elephant range states committed or recommitted to banning ivory imports, exports and domestic trade in their countries. These commendable efforts by countries drastically losing elephant populations need to be matched by similar commitments in ivory consuming nations.

All countries, particularly major consumer countries like China, Japan and the United States, should shut down their legal ivory markets. China is by far the largest consumer of ivory and other wildlife products, but as the second-largest consumer of wildlife products, the U.S. is also playing a significant role in the trade and needs to play an even bigger role to stop it.

We hope leadership from the United States and other nations will create a domino effect, persuading countries to destroy ivory stockpiles and shut down domestic ivory markets around the world, increase enforcement efforts, eliminate demand and truly change the game to give elephants a fighting chance.

For more information, please contact the author.

Amy Zets
Endangered Species Policy Analyst

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