By Daniel Stiles
On Thursday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to crush 5.4 tonnes of elephant ivory, seized since 1989 when US and international laws banned international trade of most types of African elephant ivory.
The stated purpose for doing this is “we [USFWS\ want to send a clear message that the United States will not tolerate ivory trafficking and the toll it is taking on elephant populations …”, and that the action will tell criminals that the US will aggressively go after them for killing elephants for profit.
Admirable, but will destroying ivory get that message through to poachers, ivory traffickers and the workshops in east Asia and elsewhere that buy smuggled raw ivory?
I doubt it. I have been carrying out ivory trade investigations for almost 15 years, financed in large part by the organisations that have been promoting ivory stockpile destruction, which is linked to their fierce opposition to any kind of legal ivory trade. Their lobbying resulted in ivory stockpile destruction in Kenya (2011), Gabon (2012) and the Philippines (2013), and they are vigorously working on several other countries to do it. The three governments all stated that the purpose “was to send a message” to those killing elephants for ivory.
Elephant poaching and ivory trafficking have increased since 2011 according to the UN's Elephants in the Dust report (which I co-authored).
Apparently, a different message must have been sent to the criminals, as ivory bonfires and steamroller crushings have not deterred them. Having studied at close quarters elephant hunters since the 1970s as an anthropologist, and having investigated elephant poachers, ivory middlemen, workshops and retail outlets since the 1990s in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US, I believe I know what message they are receiving.
The message is: Ivory is scarce and with stockpile destruction is getting scarcer. More....