Today the United States government, in concert with a number of conservation groups, sent a powerful message to poachers by crushing more than a ton of illegally-traded elephant ivory in the middle of Times Square.
“Many Americans don’t realize that the U.S. ivory market is one of the largest in the world. Or that it’s epicenter, until recently, was right here in New York City. Today’s ivory crush, together with tough state and federal laws cracking down on illegal trade, sends a strong signal that the United States wants no part in this trade that is so devastating to wildlife,” said Peter Lehner, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement.
The African elephant population has been decimated in recent years, largely due to poaching. A 2014 study found that Central Africa lost 64 percent of its population over the last decade, and in the previous three years nearly 100,000 elephants had been slaughtered by poachers. The species is listed as ‘threatened’ under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, but a petition has recently been filed to raise its threat level to ‘endangered’.
Today’s crush event was organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Obama administration’s continuing commitment to end wildlife trafficking. In 2013, Obama signed an executive order with three key objectives — strengthen enforcement, reduce demand, and expand international cooperation.
The ivory destroyed in the Times Square, and at similar events held in Colorado and nine other countries, is likely a small fraction of what is available on the black market. However, even though largely symbolic, crush events may prove pivotal for building a coalition of like-minded people and governments that can halt the illegal trade of ivory and the tragedy befalling Africa’s largest mammal.
Watch a video of the ivory making its way into the massive Traxpaktor machine, where it is crushed into a fine powder.
Photo & video credits: Eric R. Olson/Nature on PBS