POLL: Should contraband ivory stockpiles be destroyed?

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The Obama administration said on Monday it would destroy all 6m tons of its stocks of seized ivory – potentially millions in contraband – stepping up efforts to crush an illegal trade that has brought wild elephants to the brink of extinction.

A Congolese park ranger finds the skull of an elephant killed for its ivory. Photograph: Francesca Tosarelli

The ivory destruction, announced at a White House event addressed by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, was part of a broader effort by the administration on Monday to elevate from narrow conservation interest to urgent national security concern.

Destroying the ivory would signal that Obama was committed to stopping illegal trafficking in wildlife that has devastated species such as elephants and rhinos, and is a growing security threat, officials told the audience.

“Rising demand for ivory is fuelling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent,” the interior secretary, Sally Jewell, said. “We will continue to work aggressively … to disrupt and prosecute criminals who traffic in ivory, and we encourage other nations to join us in that effort.”

The destruction – which officials said would be public – was scheduled to take place on 8 October, officials said.

Jewell also announced a new advisory council, made up of former administration officials, conservation and business leaders, to help guide the crackdown on the criminal poaching syndicates.

Obama has given growing prominence to the dangers posed by wildlife trafficking over the last year amid an explosion of the illegal trade.

Jewell said wildlife trafficking had doubled over the past five years into a global trade worth $10bn. Poaching of elephants had risen by a factor of eight in Tanzania. Killing of rhinos for their horns had gone up by a factor of 50, Jewell said.

There has been a massive rise in elephant poaching in some African countries

State Department officials now openly refer to wildlife trafficking as a national security crisis.

As many as 35,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks last year. That amounted to 96 elephant killed every day, Clinton said.

“At this rate, African forest elephants will be extinct within 10 years,” said Clinton.

The profits from the illegal were also fuelling extremist groups, including affiliates of al-Qaida in Somalia, she said.

A zero-tolerance strategy was the only way to stop wildlife trafficking, Clinton said.

“You can’t be a little bit OK with buying ivory goods, because that opens the floodgates. Therefore we are doing everything we can to stop the trafficking, stop the demand and stop the killing,” Clinton said.

Most of the demand for trafficked ivory was from Asia, but there are also American buyers. The owners of two Manhattan jewellery shops were convicted last year of selling ivory trinkets.

Conservation groups said America’s decision to destroy its ivory stocks would hurt the contraband market.

A number of other countries – including the Philippines – have also destroyed their stocks of seized ivory.

The Philippines crushed 15m tons of seized ivory beneath industrial rollers earlier this year.

The stockpiles of contraband ivory were seen as a “time bomb” by conservation groups, creating confusion about governments’ seriousness to ban the ivory trade, and keeping prices high for trafficked goods.

Officials said the seized US ivory included raw tusks and carved ivory intercepted by the authorities over the past 25 years.

The administration was also thinking of introducing harsher penalties for wildlife trafficking.

“I think the penalties are not significant enough for wildlife trafficking,” said David Hayes, a former interior official who was named to the advisory council on Monday.

“We are not creating the kind of disincentive for wildlife trafficking that this problem deserves.”

We invite you to vote FOR or AGAINST the destruction of contraband ivory stockpiles. Please vote and also leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

: Should contraband ivory stockpiles be destroyed?

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The editorial content of this article was written by Suzanne Goldenberg for the Guardian.

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Sally Smith

Just wonder whether selling all the ivory stockpiled would flood the market making it easier to get, therefore cheaper and less attractive?

Graham Whitelaw

I understand why people have voted so heavilly in favour of destroying the ivory. In the main it will be an emotional response. I agree with Judi Joubert: In reality destroying the ivory only makes it rarer. This will push the value up, make poaching more profitable and animals more likely to be poached.

Judi Joubert

The ivory should be sold and flood the markets, so its not worth so much money to the poachers. By distroying it, its been made scarcer and sends the market value up, thereby encouraging poaching.

Cynthia Frandsen

I watch a special PBS. I guess China has been building Ivory craving factorys.
In the factory 1 in 3 seats were fit. New factory just where are you goning to get the ivory to fill those seats.
Africa whats where, they have gotten every sneaky about import it illegally.

By distorying it you take the value out of it. Any ivory should be destroyed

Linda Ridd Herzog Art

Good one Peter!

LaRetta Small

I agree. But what do you do about the Saudi elite who pay to entertain the King of Spain on numerous Elephant killing expeditions. . Why isn’t that illegal as well ???

Delbert Smith
Delbert Smith

All the ivory should have been sold, it would flood the market and drop the value. Over the last ten years millions of dollars of ivory have been destroyed, the poaching continues. So flood the market and help the poor people with the money.

Neytiri Tskaha
Neytiri Tskaha

Yes, absolutely, all ivory stockpiles should be destroyed, they should not be reintroduced into the market. Crush, or crush and burn.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott

microchip it, drop it on the black market, track it, and arrest the people involved.

Gina Harmon McBride

There are a multitude of reasons to destroy this stockpile of ivory, and the more public, the better. Every single tusk is an elephant dead, and not just dead, they have their tusks removed and their massive, once beautiful body, lies there to rot, sometimes with the offspring of the poached animal mourning and unable to leave it's dead mother's side. Ivory trade is becoming one of the most intense black market items in recent history. It is such a valuable commodity that the poachers that take the tusks live like kings in countries where poverty is rampant. So much… Read more »

Linda Ridd Herzog Art

I say crush the remains and form a memorial type structure in reverence of the animals that have died!

Randy Sargent

Need to go after the people that buy it as well. Destroy the market and problem solved.

Karl Rosenberg

The ivory could be sold legally and the money ploughed back into combating illegal trade. the poachers on the ground don’t look at facebook and overseas tv or newspapers.

Jane McConnell
Jane McConnell

The poachers are only a fraction of the problem.
The problem is Asia and the demand for ivory. Get angry at the right people, get angry at ANYONE who buys ivory. Owning ivory should be a death offense not poaching it. Give some time to allow ivory to be handed in then the death penalty for owning ivory.
Then lets see the demand for poaching drop.
It wont happen and we are seeing the last elephants on this planet go because of the filth that buy and own ivory.

Karen Lyons Kalmenson

the desire for ivory MUST be removed from human consciousness!

Mark McCandlish

My concern, is the possible loss of any genetic material in the ivory that might be preserved and used to maintain Elephant genetic diversity in the future if the population continues to be decimated. But if no genetic material can be gleaned from the ivory, then yes- destroy it. Furthermore, I think that the loss to the world is such, that being caught red-handed killing Elephants should warrant an instant death penalty. No trial, no due process, just death. Immediately. I also think that the United Nations military force and its complete intelligence gathering capabilities (possibly with help from the… Read more »