By Rachel Nuwer
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is crushing 6 tonnes of illegal ivory this week in a bid to deter traffickers – biologist Richard Ruggiero explainss
What is the purpose of the ivory crush?
Increasing demand for ivory is driving uncontrolled elephant poaching. We intend to crush about 25 years' worth of ivory, confiscated by our law enforcement agents. By destroying it in this public way, we're sending a clear message to criminals who engage in trafficking and poaching that the US government takes the issue of illegal ivory trade very seriously.
How significant a threat does this illegal trade pose for elephants?
There are several reasons why elephants are having problems. Bushmeat was the driving force behind poaching in central Africa for a couple of decades. Then increasing demand from rising economies in Asia began driving this recent increase in poaching for ivory. Now, the ivory trade is by far the number one problem. Bushmeat is number two, followed by habitat loss due to conflict between human and elephant interests.
Why not flood the market with legalised ivory to satiate demand?
We feel that is absolutely not the way to go. To begin with, demand is frequently stimulated by availability. Also, in principle a legal trade makes sense, but in reality it creates a smokescreen for laundering illegal ivory. When people see a logo or statement that it was legally acquired, they don't dig very deeply for the details used to determine that. Finally, a simpler reason is that the demand is so high right now that there are not enough elephants left in the world to produce enough legally acquired ivory to satisfy the market.
What is the value of those 6 tonnes?
That depends on the type of ivory. We're mainly talking about African elephant ivory because Asian elephant ivory is very rare. African savannah elephants produce somewhat softer, yellow ivory. African forest elephants' ivory is pink, harder, straighter, and much more highly prized for carving and aesthetic beauty. The type, quality, thickness and length all play into determining its value. That said, reports indicate that ivory runs between $1000 to $2000 per kilogram. More....