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U.S. Destroys Confiscated Ivory, Sends Message that Elephant Poaching, Wildlife Trafficking Must be Crushed
The U.S. yesterday destroyed its six-ton stock of confiscated elephant ivory, sending a clear message that the nation will not tolerate wildlife crime that threatens to wipe out the African elephant and a host of other species around the globe.
The destruction of this ivory, which took place at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Property Repository on Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, CO, was witnessed by representatives of African nations and other countries, dozens of leading conservationists and international media representatives. It is the latest in a series of actions by the Obama Administration designed to crack down on international poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking.
“Rising demand for ivory is fueling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We will continue to work aggressively with the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies around the world to investigate, arrest and prosecute criminals who traffic in ivory."
"We encourage other nations to join us in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime,” she concluded.
Some six tons of ivory were pulverized by an industrial rock crusher in front of some of the world’s most influential conservationists. Speakers included U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe; Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of World Wildlife Fund (WWF); Azzedine Downes, CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); and Paula Kahumbu, executive director of WildlifeDirect.
Remarks were also provided by Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and Judy Garber, principal deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
“By crushing its contraband ivory tusks and trinkets, the U.S. government sends a signal that it will not tolerate the senseless killing of elephants,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of WWF. “Other countries need to join the U.S., Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines to take a stand against the crime syndicates behind this slaughter."
“The destruction of the U.S. ivory stockpile speaks loud and clear to those who value ivory more than saving the elephant species from extinction,” said Downes. “IFAW commends the government’s action that underscores the critical role the U.S. can play in ending the illegal ivory trade.”
Also present were representatives from other global wildlife conservation organizations, members of the White House Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, actress and IFAW Ambassador Kristin Bauer van Straten, actress and IFAW Ambassador Joely Fisher, and actress and Patron for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Kristin Davis.
The destruction of the ivory follows an announcement by the President establishing the first ever council to advise the government on ways to improve coordination and implementation of domestic and international efforts to fight poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking. Formation of the council stemmed directly from his July 1 Executive Order directing U.S. government agencies to ramp up efforts to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade.
The Service accumulated the ivory destroyed yesterday over the past 25 years, seizing it during undercover investigations of organized smuggling operations or confiscating it at the U.S. border. Although it is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of different elephants this ivory represents, it certainly numbers in the thousands. Prior to being seized, most of this ivory was destined to be sold illegally in the U.S. or overseas.
“The U.S. is part of the problem, because much of the world’s trade in wild animal and plant species—both legal and illegal—is driven by U.S. consumers or passes through our ports on the way to other nations. We have to be part of the solution,” Ashe said. “The species and habitats of our planet support billions of people and drive the world’s economy. We all have a stake in ensuring their survival.”
“Similar demand for elephant ivory in the past led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s,” Ashe added. “Although many populations showed signs of recovery due to increased protections in the 1990s, rising global demand for ivory is erasing those hard-fought gains.”
In the last ten years, an estimated 11,000 forest elephants were killed in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park alone. During that time period, the total population of forest elephants plummeted by an estimated 62 percent across Central Africa. Elephant massacres have taken place in Chad, Cameroon and the Central African Republic in the past year. Well-armed and organized criminal enterprises have taken advantage of insufficient protection capacity in remote areas.
African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and are protected under the African Elephant Conservation Act. Trade in these animals and their parts is also regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora—a global agreement through which the U.S. and 178 other nations work to protect species at risk.
Although some African elephant ivory (including lawfully hunted trophies and antiques that meet specific requirements) can still be imported legally into this country with appropriate permits, the U.S. generally prohibits commercial trade of both raw ivory and ivory products. The service is currently evaluating ways to further strengthen its elephant ivory trade controls.
In addition to law enforcement efforts, the service also works to support on-the-ground efforts to conserve elephants through the Wildlife Without Borders African Elephant Conservation Fund and the Africa Regional Program. These programs, in partnership with government agencies, private organizations and local communities, are supporting initiatives to conserve and manage African elephants through law enforcement, habitat management, community initiatives and other effective conservation methods.
In 2012, the service awarded grants for African elephant conservation totaling $1,397,916, which raised an additional $1,606,004 in leveraged funds. Grants supported field projects in 13 nations, focusing on the protection of vulnerable elephant populations and increasing the capacity of partner countries to prevent elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.
The ivory fragments left by the crusher will be stored temporarily at the Service’s National Wildlife Property Repository. The agency is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and other partners to identify how best to use this material to increase awareness of the global poaching crisis and commemorate this historic event.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?