In Signal To Poachers, U.S. Readies Destruction Of Ivory Stockpile

CREDIT: Shutterstock

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it will destroy all six tons of ivory it has seized over the last three decades, hoping to send a message to poachers about the futility of their efforts.

On Nov. 14, the agency will crush thousands of pounds of illegally obtained tusks, sculptures and other ivory products, the New York Times reports. “By destroying our domestic stocks of ivory, we send a very clear signal that these illegally traded products should not be perceived as items of value,” Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources, said.

Once the United States’ stockpile of ivory is crushed, officials said, it will be used to build memorials around the country against poaching. After China, the U.S. remains the second largest market for ivory in the world. In completely destroying the stockpile, the U.S. will be joining the Philippines, Kenya, and Gabon as the only states to do so.

In recent years the value of ivory has grown considerably, fueled largely by increased demand for the good in China, which buys 70 percent of the world’s illegal ivory products. As a result, elephants are being poached in massive numbers, with 17,000 African elephants slaughtered in 2011. Just last month, poachers in Zimbabwe used cyanide to poison more than 300 elephants in the country’s largest nature reserve.

But while conservationists are alarmed by the killings, poaching is quickly expanding into a problem of international security. Members of a task force created by President Obama in July to combat poaching, especially by criminal organizations, issued the announcement on Tuesday. In his executive order creating the task force, the President noted that poaching had “expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates.”

According to a recent Enough Project report, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has taken advantage of the booming trade for illicit ivory. Interviews with park rangers and LRA escapees revealed that the LRA’s organized poaching helps fund its food and weapons supplies, resources that help combat the international community’s attempts to stop the violent group. Activists have also claimed that the violent jihadi group al Shabaab, responsible for September’s brutal mall attack in Kenya, also funds its attacks with poached ivory, though some of these claims have been challenged.

In addition to creating the anti-poaching task force, President Obama directed $10 million in State Department aid to training security for protected wildlife. Meanwhile, some African nations have taken even stronger steps to end poaching, with mixed results. While Kenya has created paramilitary forces to fight the increasingly better-armed and better-organized poachers and seen “a very significant deterrent effect,” similar measures have led to potentially out-of-control law enforcement and illegal killings.

Christopher Butterfield in an intern for ThinkProgress.