Mark Von Holden / AP Images for The HSUS
By Iris Ho, Wildlife Program Manager, Humane Society International
As I placed a carved ivory tusk on the conveyer belt, I was fighting back tears; my hands were trembling from emotion and from the heavy weight of the ivory tusk. I murmured a blessing to the elephant whose tusk I was feeding to the crusher.
I was attending the ivory crush on behalf of The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation organized the event in New York City’s Central Park. Ivory crush events like this one, in which local authorities destroy their stockpile of seized ivory, help raise awareness of the poaching crisis and ivory trade.
Under the summer sun and with New York’s high-rise skyline as the backdrop, almost two tons of confiscated elephant ivory were crushed and destroyed while New Yorkers and animal welfare leaders like myself working to stop animal poaching, looked on.
HSUS and HSI, along with other conservation and animal protection organizations, were partners in this momentous, powerful occasion designed to demonstrate our support for the state enforcement agency to combat wildlife crime. The display of ivory trinkets, jewelry, figurines and other decorative items, representing more than 100 dead elephants, was a stark reminder of this lucrative, nefarious trade.
It was my seventh ivory destruction, having attended similar events in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Kenya. It does not get easier. It still makes me emotional every time. An ivory destruction is akin to a memorial service of the elephants poached for their tusks.
As the crush event in Central Park progressed, I thought about the wild elephants in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, who I saw just two weeks ago, including a two-week old baby elephant who stole my heart. I reminisced about my very first encounter with wild elephants outside the Amboseli National Park in Kenya, and with many other animals I was fortunate to meet during the course of my travels on behalf of The HSUS and HSI. Then, sadness and worry kicked in. I worry about their safety, and that their tusks have made or would make them targets for poachers and traffickers. I am sad and baffled that many people, including those in the U.S., continue to defend the ivory trade and have no qualms about reducing these majestic creatures to trinkets and vanity items.
Illegal ivory is often disguised as legal ivory, being stained in tea to look like and pass as “antiques.” Consumers duped into purchasing ivory of dubious origin unwittingly contribute to the black market in illicit ivory from poached elephants. During the several undercover investigations conducted by The HSUS, we have found ivory items widely available across the country. Almost no one we investigated had documentation to prove its legality. Many sellers pleaded ignorance about the origin of their items or relevant laws. Some even offered tips to our investigators on how to smuggle undocumented ivory out of the state and the country.
While federal regulations to restrict the import, export and interstate trade of ivory were tightened under the Obama administration, seven states – New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, Hawaii, Oregon and Nevada – also passed laws further clamping down on the sale of these products within their own borders.
A new report published last week found that recent federal regulatory changes and tightened state laws have been effective at decreasing the market for ivory, but that metropolitan regions without local restrictions, such as the greater Washington, D.C. area, now house the largest markets for ivory. The trade in ivory has also increasingly shifted to the online marketplace. These findings reinforce the need for state legislation that The HSUS is supporting in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Nebraska and the District of Columbia to prohibit the sale of elephant ivory and other wildlife parts within their own borders.
HSI is working to shut down domestic markets in key ivory consuming countries, such as Japan, especially considering that its neighbor, China, is on track to close its domestic ivory market by the end of this year. HSI also has a variety of programs to support community outreach efforts in Africa to combat wildlife poaching and trafficking and to reduce consumer demand for ivory, rhino horn and other imperiled species products in Asia.
This ivory crush at the heart of New York City shows that the world is still standing strong against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Many elephants continue to perish at the hands of poachers and destroying this contraband not only serves to memorialize these lost creatures, but it also affirms our stance to protect the remaining elephant populations and allow them to thrive once again.
Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world’s largest animal protection organizations. For more than 25 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide – on the Web at www.hsi.org.