« Feast or famine - the Guantanamo quagmire | Main | Ford and Zhirinovsky: separated at birth? »


To destroy or not: the ivory conundrum


Workers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carry confiscated ivory to be destroyed. (Reuters photo)

On Nov. 14, the U.S. crushed about six tonnes of seized ivory worth over $ 12 million in Denver, Colorado, its entire cache from the past 25 years.

Entire tusks, carved figurines, bracelets and various trinkets went into a giant blue crusher. What came out was a stream of fragments that, according to one report, looked like “remnants of seashells pounded by heavy surf.”  

The U.S. wasn’t the first country to do so — Kenya, Philippines and Gabon have also done exactly that, they have also destroyed sized ivory.

But what does it achieve?

Governments say destroying ivory is a strong message in combating illegal wildlife trade — ivory from elephants, rhino horns and other products — which is now a $19-billion-a-year industry and known to fund terrorist and other extremist groups.

But can destruction of seized stockpiles really help stamp out the trade? Some critics say it may actually have the opposite effect.

By drastically reducing supply of elephant ivory and rhino horns, high-profile events drive  prices up and stimulate poaching even more. In fact, since 2011, poaching has increased because there is still high demand and shows no sign of going away.

The Guardian says governments’ belief is misplaced: when they destroy ivory, there is less of it, there is stable demand and it will only lead to an increase in ivory prices, which gives poachers increased incentive to go out and kill more wildlife.

Clamping down on ivory trade is very tough because in China — its main market — it is fuelled by the middle class which has boomed in the past few years and has more money to spend now.

Then there is the U.S. and its confusing ivory law.

An article in the Scientific American points out that “the U.S. allows the import of raw tusks from sport-hunted elephants, but does not restrict the number of tusks a hunter can bring in. It also allows the trade of antique ivory, despite the fact that on a practical level it is impossible to distinguish old ivory from new.”

Meanwhile, African elephants are still dying.  

In October, poachers in Zimbabwe killed more than 300 pachyderms by cyanide poisoning; they laced waterholes and salt licks with cyanide.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The idea that destruction of ivory stockpiles will drive the price of ivory up is, in my opinion, misplaced. First of all, the amount destroyed is probably not great enough to affect prices, but more importantly the stockpiled ivory was not available for the market, under international and US law, in the first place (and in the case of the US stockpile at least, almost certainly never would have been). Increases in poaching have followed (as in 2008) the release of ivory into a legal market, not past stockpile destruction - the opposite of the situation implied by the Guardian.

Personal disclosure: I have been actively involved in the ivory issue since the mid-1980s as a board member of the Species Survival Network. My book "Ivory, Horn & Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinoceros Poaching Crisis" was published this fall by Firefly Books.

The comments to this entry are closed.

The World Daily

  • The Star's foreign desk covers the best stories from the around the globe, updated throughout the day.