Friday, November 15, 2013

Fish and Wildlife Service crushes ivory

Six tons of confiscated ivory were destroyed in a rock-crusher near Denver on Thursday as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signaled a renewed focus on stopping the ongoing slaughter of African elephants.

The operation, which involved the nation's entire stock of confiscated ivory, occurred at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and was witnessed by representatives of African nations.

"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. “We will continue to work aggressively with the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies around the world to investigate, arrest and prosecute criminals who traffic in ivory. We encourage other nations to join us in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime.”

The Obama administration's move follows the establishment of the White House Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking. President Barack Obama included the creation of the panel in a July 1 executive order focused on increasing federal efforts to stop the trade in imperiled wildlife species.

The ivory that was crushed on Thursday represented the remains of thousands of elephants, according to a Department of Interior press release.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe explained that rising demand for ivory around the world, especially in Asia, threatens a return to "devastating declines" in elephant populations experienced in earlier decades.

"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. We have to be part of the solution,” Ashe said.

An estimated 35,000 elephants per year are killed to support the ivory trade.

Loxodonta africana was once ubiquitous in Africa, ranging across as many as 37 of the continent's countries. Numbering 3-5 million during the 19th century, the species is now estimated to total about 700,000 individuals and their distribution is increasingly fragmented.

The population is growing in eastern and southern Africa, but falling fast in central and western Africa.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the African elephant as a vulnerable species.

Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service