National Geographic News
Crushed ivory.

Confiscated, illegally smuggled ivory is laid out in a parking lot and crushed.

Photograph by Brent Stirton, Getty Images Reportage/National Geographic

Bryan Christy

for National Geographic

Published June 21, 2013

On Friday the Philippines became the world's first non-African country to undertake the destruction of its national ivory stock. The government's action represents the first time an ivory-consuming country or an ivory-transit country has destroyed its seized ivory.

Undertake is a key word because it turns out that it is not easy to destroy ivory. Officials elected not to burn the country's five tons of ivory out of pollution concerns and instead planned to crush it. In a dry run Thursday night, however, it was discovered that while it might be easy to kill an elephant—tens of thousands are poached across Africa each year—it is very difficult to crush its teeth.

And so after a night of sawing at the tusks to weaken them, government workers laid the ivory out in the parking lot of the wildlife department and began pounding it into shards using a backhoe and roller. The process may take a day or more, after which the government has arranged with the Bureau of Animal Industry to cremate the pieces in facilities normally used to dispose of euthanized dogs. Ashes will be spread on the grounds of the wildlife bureau, according to officials, a property that doubles as an animal rescue and a park. A few of the tusks will be used to create a memorial on the site.

"We do this for three reasons," Department of Natural Resources and Environment Secretary J. P. Paje told a very crowded conference room during his keynote address preceding the destruction. The three reasons Paje detailed are:

  • To devalue this "white gold" and curtail the risk that the ivory will be stolen from government storerooms and sold on the black market. (This is a real risk. The five tons to be destroyed represent less than half the total ivory seized in recent years, with the rest having likely been stolen by those employed to watch over it.)
  • To affirm the country's commitment to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
  • To highlight the continued poaching in African countries.

Bonaventure Ebayi—chair of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force, an Africa-based regional law enforcement network—who flew in from Kenya for the event, called the destruction "a model to be replicated around the world."

He underscored the importance of this act by an ivory-consuming country and hoped it could have an impact at least as great as the iconic ivory burn conducted by Kenya in 1989, a destruction that helped launch a global ivory ban later that year.

Heath Bailey of the U.S. Embassy expressed U.S. support for the action and called the Philippines an example for the world. Chrisgel Cruz of the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network agreed.

Officials have credited National Geographic magazine's story Blood Ivory with inspiring their decision to destroy the country's ivory stock. At their request I gave a short talk on the plight of the elephant and the extent of global ivory trafficking. The half-day event was entitled "Battle Against Illegal Ivory Trade," a play on the title of a recent National Geographic/PBS documentary, "Battle for the Elephants." (Related: Watch the documentary.)


I am a piano tuner and really love a nice Ivory keyboard. However, there are plastics that do the job just as well without any more Elephants being harmed. Pianos were probably the biggest use for Ivory in history.  We absolutely have to stop the Ivory trade completely.  Bravo! Destroy it. 

Leanne Jazul
Leanne Jazul

I just wish that Brent Stirton, who took the photograph was crushed as well for bullying a Filipino photographer covering the event. Kudos to NatGeo for the article and I'm hoping you won't be sending an arrogant and racist photographer next time :-) 

Daniel Caasi
Daniel Caasi

I am a Filipino and I say Jail the Poachers!

Michael Seecharan
Michael Seecharan

Well done to you Philipinos! A giant step for the animal kingdom.

Michael Seecharan
Michael Seecharan

Well done to you Philipinos!  I hope the reat of the world follows you and some countries in Africa.

David Guerra
David Guerra

It should be legal for the state to sell the seized ivory, at least, as this would contribute to satisfy demand and lower the prices, thus making illegal harvesting less profitable. I mean, it's not like illegal drugs where the point is to keep people from consuming them and where it makes sense to destroy the apprehensions. In this case it's the harvesting that is the problem. And I also extend this comment to seized tiger skins, etc. It should all be sold in auction and the money go to keeping and surveilling the natural reserves where these animals exist.

Furkat Kholbaev
Furkat Kholbaev

I am not much into this topic and issue. However, I believe that by destroying ivory people/countries are only further spurring on the black market. One has to ask why is there a black market for ivory. The answer is that there is demand. And now that supply, stolen ivory from storerooms, has decreased the price of ivory in the black market will increase assuming that demand does not decrease. I don't believe that by this act or many others demand will decrease.

The higher price in the black market will only motivate people to supply more into the market, albeit the black one. What will they do?! They will kill or will try to kill more elephants, alternatively they will try to steal what is kept in storerooms in other countries.

As a solution, I would rather suggest the creation of a legal market for ivory. This would satisfy the demand for ivory and have a bigger impact on the black market. And there is bonus to this! Governments could get a hand on a new revenue stream, be it directly from the sale of ivory or taxes associated with this activity.


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