COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — U.S. officials are destroying more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry — the bulk of the U.S. “blood ivory” stockpile — to support the fight against a $10 billion global trade that slaughters tens of thousands of elephants each year.
Officials on Thursday will use rock crushers to pulverize the stockpile, accumulated over the past 25 years, at the National Wildlife Property Repository just north of Denver. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will donate the crushed ivory particles to a museum to be determined for future display.
Service officials showed off thousands of ivory tusks, statues, ceremonial bowls, masks and ornaments to be destroyed — a collection they said represented the killing of more than 2,000 adult elephants.
The items were seized from smugglers, traders and tourists at U.S. ports of entry after a global ban on the ivory trade went into effect in 1989.
“What is striking to me is the lengths that some commercial importers and smugglers will go to conceal their ivory — everything from staining it with colors to covering it with leather,” said Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Steve Oberholtzer. “The stakes are high in the ivory trade.”
The message from Thursday’s crush likely will reach consumers more than the faraway poachers and smugglers targeted by governments across the globe. Elephant poaching is at an all-time high, thanks in large part to U.S. demand and growing demand in Asia.
The British-based Born Free Foundation estimates that poachers killed 32,000 elephants last year. It says that black-market ivory sells for around $1,300 per pound.
Most elephants are killed in Africa, where there are about 300,000 African elephants left. There are an estimated 50,000 Asian elephants found from India to Vietnam.
Not everyone supported the ivory crush. Bob Weisblut, a co-founder of the Florida-based International Ivory Society, said he thought the carvings and tusks should be sold to raise money for anti-poaching efforts.
“A lot of this is beautiful art,” Weisblut said. “And it’s a shame to destroy it.”
The ivory being destroyed didn’t include items legally imported or acquired before the 1989 global ban.
“This is a way to say to people we are not putting a value on ivory. We’re putting a value on the lives of the elephants,” said Azzedine Downes, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which works with U.S. agents to enforce animal protection laws.