By Carter Roberts, Azzedine Downes
At first glance, Denver, Colorado, might seem like an unlikely place for America to take a stand against a global criminal enterprise that undermines security, funds terrorism, and threatens some of the most iconic species on the planet with extinction in the wild.
But a suburb outside of Denver is home to the National Wildlife Property Repository, where our government safeguards nearly six tons of elephant tusks and ivory products seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. On November 14, the entire stock was hauled into the sunlight and ground into gravel by a rock crusher.
The public destruction of our contraband ivory stockpile sends the world a message that the United States has zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade.
Why the renewed concern, when elephants have been killed for their ivory for centuries? It's both because elephants are very near to being at the end of their rope and because nowadays, poaching is a far cry from being a poor man's means of feeding his family. Driven by demand in large part from newly wealthy Asian consumers, poaching has metastasized into a mechanized, militarized and multi-billion-dollar industry. The trade now involves a rogue's gallery of criminal syndicates, insurgencies and terrorist groups.
Globally, wildlife crime is worth an estimated $10 billion year--and nearly $20 billion if the illegal trade in timber and marine products is included, which places it as the fourth-largest criminal activity in the world, just behind drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
This is a conservation crisis--and one the likes of which our two organizations have never seen. Almost every day brings chilling news, the latest being from Zimbabwe, where poachers poisoned a watering hole with cyanide earlier this year, and more than 300 elephants who drank there died. Over the past decade, poaching has reduced an already depleted population of African forest elephants by two-thirds. In 2012 alone, at least 30,000 elephants were slaughtered--the worst body count since the international commercial ivory trade was banned in 1989.
It is also a profound human tragedy--one that systematically shreds the already threadbare social fabric of many struggling African states. More....