By Adam Welz
Waves of acrid white dust drifted into a throng of photographers and reporters as U.S. officials used a massive rock-crushing machine to pulverize about six tons of raw tusks, carvings and trinkets, the country's stockpile of seized illegal elephant ivory.
Designed as a grand gesture against rampant elephant poaching in Africa and a message for consumers around the world, the crush was also an opportunity for United States officials to tell the world that the U.S. is prepared to address its shortcomings in dealing with the illegal ivory trade and to take a leading role in halting it.
“We’re here, in the shadows of past failures, to say ‘enough’,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Wildlife conservationists estimate that more than 30,000 elephants are illegally killed each year to satisfy the rising demand for ivory in Asia, particularly in China. But on Thursday, U.S. officials pointed to their own country's role in the poaching crisis as a leading market for wildlife goods, including ivory.
It's the latest step in a turnaround that began in July, when President Obama signed an executive order mandating the formation of a high-level Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, which includes senior representatives of the Departments of State, Justice and Defense.
Members of the task force were present Thursday at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, where the crush took place, to emphasize that organized crime networks and terror groups like Al Shabab are profiting from elephant poaching.
Environmental concerns — it's feared that some countries could lose their entire elephant populations within a decade — are now counter-balanced with worries over terrorism.
The problem is “no longer in a green ghetto,” said Allan Crawford, a crime expert at the World Wildlife Fund. “This is a national security issue.” More....