By Derek Mead
The pace of poaching and the growth of wildlife crime has skyrocketed in the last five years, pushing elephants, rhinos, and myriad other species towards the brink. Recently, that growth has spurred more attention from US authorities, with both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry speaking out against the trade. Now, a pair of announcements from the White House suggest the Obama administration is taking the anti-trafficking fight to new heights.
The first is largely symbolic: senior officials announced yesterday that the US would destroy its six-ton elephant ivory stockpile in a bid to raise awareness. The massive stockpile contains everything from whole tusks and carved art, and is the result of 25 years or more of seizures. The ivory, which is currently stored in a secure facility in Denver, will be destroyed in an event on October 8 by US Fish and Wildlife officials.
The move follows the Philippines' recent decision to destroy its own five-ton ivory stock, and the thinking is that destroying stocks provides two-fold benefits. One, crushing millions of dollars worth of ivory is a great way of raising awareness of the trade, which remains sorely lacking. Getting people to ask why ivory would be destroyed is a solid first step towards turning popular tide against the illicit wildlife trade, which is currently decimating elephants at a faster rate than anti-poaching efforts can stop.
The other hope—although less of a concern with the US's secured stock—is that destroying seized ivory will prevent ivory on the market from being laundered. Ivory harvested before the 1989 international ivory ban is still legal today, but because it's difficult to date ivory and with a lack of a universal permit and tracking system for antique ivory, it's hard for authorities to prove that ivory is illegal, especially if they're indifferent about the issue in the first place. New tests are helping sort out how old ivory is, but by destroying stockpiles worldwide—legal or otherwise, as is the case in the US—will help cut down on avenues for ivory laundering.
The second announcement from the White House follows up on a July executive order from President Obama pledging to create a council dedicated to slowing the trade. Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the members of the new task force. The council includes top officials from major wildlife NGOs, legal experts, as well as top lawyer from eBay, which has made strides in past years at cutting down the online trade. More....