Last week one of the most important events in Wildlife History went down in New York. Times Square hosted its legendary Ivory Crush – an occurrence that has only happened once before in the US. The purpose of this legendary Ivory Crush was to display the accumulated amount of illegally imported ivory to the US and to send the right message. A total of one ton disguised in statues and other forms was brought to New York.
Why crush the ivory and not auction it off in order to donate the benefits to the wildlife protection society? Well, this actually happened in previous years – and it backfired immensely! While a high amount of sales had been achieved by auctioning off legal ivory – meaning ivory from elephants which died of a natural cause – there seems to be no bullet-proof method to go about protecting elephants from exploitation and death. Legal ivory might raise several millions of dollars, which in turn can sponsor more research and conservation centers. But on the flipside, it opens up a pathway to the underground getting rid of their illegal ivory and that’s when things turn negative. To date, there is no effective way of telling illegal ivory from legal one (unless it’s marked or provided with an electronic chip). Needless to say, the past auctions have been quite controversial in regards to these concerns and have perhaps fueled the sales of illegal ivory disguised through this legal gateway.
Two weeks ago, ivory was crushed to discourage poachers from killing off entire species as well as buyers and collectors from greedily bringing up the sale of items which are endangering the existence of innocent animals throughout the entire world. What will happen once this entire ecosystem breaks down? No reason to let it come so far.
Ivory was first crushed in the fall of 2013 in the US, when more than 6 tons of ivory seized since 1989 were destroyed in Denver, CO. China was soon to follow with a similar event. Soon after, ivory crushes happened in some African countries, such as Kenya, as well as the Philippines and Belgium, to name a few. A total of 50 tons of ivory worldwide have been crushed in the past 2 years. While opinions vary on whether or not this will fuel even more aggressive poaching (since ivory is becoming scarcer as we’re speaking and therefore also more valuable, which in turn might cause more poaching), the events are held to bring the same message across: To discourage ivory trading and to destroy the entire ivory market worldwide.
On June 19th, 2015 one ton of ivory was displayed in Times Square for the crowds to see. Important political figures, such as U.S. interior secretary Sally Jewel and state senator Brad Hoylman, came out to give a speech on this memorable hot summer day. A total of ten speakers stood together and provided valuable insight on the entire issue concerning not only the US but worldwide. The US is considered the second largest market of illegal ivory trade, following China as the undefeated number one.
A total of 34,000 elephants are killed yearly in order to gain access to the delicate ivory. This makes out for 96 elephants every day or roughly one elephant every 15 minutes!
Highlighting the fact that poachers are mostly only tools to bigger underground organizations helped in shaping the image of the intense market of illegal trading. Before listening to these speeches, I hadn’t even known of the implications and associations to terror organizations involved in illegal ivory trade. From the Irish Mafia over ISIS to notable others – the projected sales are fueling a much higher and destructive force than we as normal people are ready to understand.
After providing some crucial background info on the ivory crush, the displayed amount went through a massive wood chopper – piece by piece. Some ivory products were quite easy to recognize and had only been adorned with a few carvings here and there. Several trinkets were available. But other times, such as when looking at statues, ivory seemed to resemble wood very closely. It’s a tricky part – differentiating ivory of all other kinds of materials.
If you are still unaware of how big a deal ivory has become, please note that people are being followed, threatened and killed throughout the US and of course in the countries the ivory stems from. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of murdered park rangers in South Africa by now. Most likely killed by greedy poachers, these protecting agents were simply doing their job by providing animals with their basic right of living. But also in the US agents of the Wildlife Society are being followed and threatened to give up their jobs. We ran into an undercover agent during the event who works closely with the police in order to catch ivory traders red-handed. He has to be very careful as to not reveal his true identity and has been approached by multiple underground organizations in regards to his job and life safety.
New York State is one of the forerunners by implementing a law in 2014 banning the sale of ivory in its territory. Several states have followed since and a hopeful future guess is that all 50 states will be as equally harsh when it comes to ivory trading. Unfortunately, prison sentences are almost unheard of, even when ivory trades have been discovered. The longest sentence was finally handed to Victor Gordon last year after implementing the law, who is anticipated to spent 2 ½ years behind bars (or most likely on probation). A relatively short time frame considering he smuggled in 1 million worth of ivory over the course of his “career.”
Imagine an entire species dying out and no one person being held responsible for it. Almost unheard of when it comes to humans but the sad reality is that crucial existential animal rights are still too far behind our most basic ones.
Several nonprofits hosted the event, 96elephants.org was perhaps the most noticeable one, providing the protesters with T-Shirts, buttons, and hand-fans. Kudos to this great organization for making changes in the world of wildlife protection and raising awareness to the masses.