By John R. Platt
Whole elephant tusks. Carved ivory figurines and statues. Ivory knives, jewelry, chopsticks and trinkets. Six tons of this stuff, all of it illegal, sits in a secure warehouse where box after cardboard box rests alongside wooden pallets that overflow their bloody bounty onto the floor.
No, this isn’t in China or South Africa or Japan. It’s in the U.S.—Denver to be specific. That’s the site of the National Wildlife Property Repository, where illegal products seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), customs agents and other officials line the shelves and hallways. Along with ivory, the facility also holds thousands of preserved animals; handbags made from the skin of endangered species; bear paws and teeth; and just about every other wildlife product you can imagine.
The U.S. has been collecting and securing illegal ivory in Denver for 25 years. Now, following the example of countries like Gabon and the Philippines, the government will destroy it. The move, announced September 9, is part of a broader U.S. commitment to fight international wildlife trafficking and is intended to send a signal that the federal government takes poaching and smuggling seriously.
The FWS will use rock grinders to pulverize the confiscated ivory on October 8. The event will not be open to the public. “Rising demand for ivory is fueling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said at a press briefing. Dan Ashe, director of the FWS, laid some of the blame on American consumers. “The United States is part of the problem, because much of the world’s trade in wild animal and plant species—both legal and illegal—is driven by U.S. consumers or passes through our ports on the way to other nations,” he said. “We have to be part of the solution.”
The U.S. is one of the world’s largest markets for ivory, despite the fact that the international ivory trade has been outlawed since 1989. More....