By Bryan Christy
This Thursday, the United States government will destroy nearly six tons of ivory, which represents a good portion of the ivory the U.S. has seized since the late 1980s, when a national ban on commercial African ivory imports went into effect.
It will be a symbolic act. But symbolism matters.
Ivory destruction ceremonies have been a litmus test for where a country stands on the ivory trade ever since Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi torched 13 tons of ivory in 1989, setting the stage for a vote to ban international trade in ivory by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
That ban went into effect in 1990. Six months later, the U.S. ivory market collapsed.
With no international market, it might have been reasonable for all CITES parties to destroy their ivory stocks after the 1990 international ivory ban took effect.
But the ban did not last. In 1999 and again in 2008 parties to CITES voted to allow ivory sales.
The first sale was of 55 tons to Japan and the second, of 115 tons to Japan and China. In the wake of the China sale, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have boomed. So has the need for international action. (See related article: “Ivory Worship.”)
Last year, Gabon burned 4.8 tons of ivory. Earlier this year the Philippines became the first non-African country to destroy its ivory stocks when it crushed five tons of ivory.
Each was an act by a relatively poor country sacrificing a potential asset for principles that go beyond money. "The Philippines will not be a party to this massacre, and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing," Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje said last summer, when his country crushed its ivory.
But not all ivory destructions are alike.
One of the most amazing things about the African elephant is its ability, despite its immense size, to blend in with its surroundings. Just meters away, even seasoned scouts can overlook an elephant.
So, too, does the language surrounding the elephant’s protection easily conceal the size and nature of the ivory trafficking problem. More....