In front of a cheering crowd in Times Square Friday, a government official placed an ornately carved elephant tusk onto a conveyer belt. The piece of ivory rode up a ramp and fell into the Trakpactor 260. The 50,000-pound rock crusher groaned, shook, and spat out a fine white dust.
After a few minutes, dust was all that was left of roughly a ton of tusks, jewelry, and other ivory products that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies seized over the past few years.
“Today's crush represents a message to poachers that their greed will no longer be tolerated,” said Dan Ashe, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, who had also presided over an ivory crush in Denver in 2013 (here’s a video of that crush). Ashe added that the “lifeless pile of trinkets represents elephants slaughtered to promote the global trade in ivory.” Those trinkets included an assortment of carved figurines and tusks, many in the likeness of living things, from tigers to trees.
In order to meet the global demand for such items, particularly in Asia, an average of 34,000 elephants are killed every year, said Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. About 90 elephants are killed for one ton of ivory, according to Jeffrey Flocken with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. African elephants have seen their numbers fall by half in recent decades, to around 500,000, due to a soaring black market for their tusks. Some $2 million dollars worth of ivory was seized in the last two years just blocks away from Times Square, in the jewelry district, as state authorities have begun enforcing a New York law that prohibits the sale of the material.
There’s been a ban on new ivory since 1989, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the conservation groups that joined in the ivory crush want to see tougher laws regarding the sale of pre-ban ivory. But law enforcement agencies also need more resources, said Leigh Henry, a senior policy advisor with the World Wildlife Fund.
The Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have enough funding to fill a number of open positions, she said. A bill in a committee in the U.S. House would prohibit federal funds from being put toward enforcing ivory trafficking laws.
It’s not just the U.S. that’s fighting the ivory trade. Jewell plans to meet with officials in China and Vietnam to discuss ways the countries can work together to battle international wildlife traffickers. China announced earlier this month that it would phase out its legal ivory market, and the country destroyed nearly 1,500 pounds of seized ivory tusks and carvings in Beijing in May.