By Steven Stone
Last week, in Denver, I watched as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crushed nearly six tons of ivory, the entire U.S. stockpile of ivory, into dust.
Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, speaking at the event, said that “the main point of this crush is to send a signal to the world, to raise awareness about … an international crisis … We have to reduce the demand, we have to reverse that trend, we have to send the signal that ivory belongs to elephants and it belongs to elephants in the wild.”
Only four days earlier, I had been in the Town of Deep River, Connecticut. In the 19th century and until the early 1960s, more than 90% off the ivory that entered the United States passed through Deep River and the nearby Town of Ivoryton. Hundreds of thousands of elephants were killed and their tusks transported to Connecticut to support the trade. Deep River had decided that it would try to help save elephants now by telling the world about its history.
The ivory trade did not begin in Deep River and it did not end in Denver. Elephants have been hunted for their tusks for centuries, and at times elephant populations in different areas of Africa were decimated. However, as recently as 1900, there were millions of elephants living in Africa, and populations were able to rebound during better times.
The program “Deep River and the African Elephant” began with speakers at the Deep River Town Hall Auditorium — which was sold out and had a standing-room only crowd. The audience listened intently as the historian Brenda Milkofsky talked about the history of Deep River and Ivoryton and its major role in the ivory trade. Herb Raffaele, recently retired as the Chief of the International Conservation Division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, spoke of the ivory trade today and the need to reduce the demand for ivory if elephants are to survive. He mentioned some initiatives that are providing some hope; notably efforts to change the values of the people who buy ivory. Dr. Paula Kahumbu, a conservationist and director of WildlifeDirect, who traveled from Kenya to speak in Deep River and in Denver, talked about how Kenyans view the current crisis and efforts they are making to protect their elephants and stop the ivory trade.
Deep River and Ivoryton processed almost all of the ivory used in the United States for more than one hundred years. More....