U.S. Government Destroys More Than a Ton of Ivory in Times Square

U.S. Government Destroys More Than a Ton of Ivory in Times Square
Friday, 19 June, 2015
New York, NY

USFWS and State of New York Joined by Wildlife and Conservation NGOs to Raise Awareness of Poaching Crisis and Ivory Trade

The United States today destroyed more than one ton of illegal ivory confiscated through the law enforcement efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of New York.

The ivory tusks, trinkets, statues, jewelry and other decorative items were crushed in Times Square while thousands of supporters gathered to watch; sending a clear message that the nation will not tolerate wildlife crime that threatens to wipe out the African elephant and a host of other species around the globe.

The high-profile, public event at the “Crossroads of the World” was organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in partnership with New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman. Partnering organizations included several of the world’s most prominent wildlife conservation NGOs: African Wildlife Foundation, The Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund.

Said John Calvelli, Wildlife Conservation Society executive vice president for Public Affairs: “Crushing ivory in Times Square – literally at the crossroads of the world – says in the clearest of terms that the U.S. is serious about closing its illegal ivory markets and stopping the demand.  We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service and DEC for their efforts to close this deadly trade that is currently decimating Africa’s elephants at the rate of 96 each day. ”

Said Peter Lehner, NRDC’s executive director: “Many Americans don’t realize that the U.S. ivory market is one of the largest in the world. Or that its epicenter, until recently, was right here in New York City. Today’s ivory crush, together with tough state and federal laws cracking down on the illegal ivory trade, send a strong signal that the United States wants no part in this trade that is so devastating to wildlife.”

Said Dr. Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation: “By destroying this ivory in New York’s Times Square, one of the most recognized and visible places in the world, we are lending the elephant crisis the kind of global platform it deserves. With every ivory crush and every piece of federal and state legislation that bans ivory trade, we are sending a message that the United States is not just crushing ivory but crushing the trade for good.”

Said Azzedine Downes, CEO, IFAW: “The ivory trade anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere. The destruction of ivory in the U.S. and around the world is a sign of solidarity in the global fight to protect elephants. By standing with USFWS in publicly destroying this ivory, we demonstrate our commitment to saving elephants and ending the ivory trade.”

Said Iris Ho, wildlife program manager at Humane Society International, global affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States: “The ivory crush is akin to a somber memorial service for the slaughtered elephants. It is also a pivotal occasion to rally the public to eschew ivory consumption. We are encouraged by the unequivocal commitment by the Administration to reaffirm its leadership in stemming the senseless elephant slaughters and reducing demand for ivory. Are we the generations to lose the last remaining elephants or to save them? Not only is the elephant's survival at stake, but also our generation’s conservation legacy.” 

Said, Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund: “Today the United States sent a strong message that it will not tolerate wildlife crime. For Africa’s vanishing elephants, these are the most desperate of times and more needs to be done. Just last month, China – another major consumer market for wildlife products – announced it would end its ivory trade. The US must do the same, urgently.”

Attendees, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, were on hand to witness the symbolic crushing of raw and carved ivory tusks and statues by an industrial rock crusher. It was the latest in a series of actions by the Obama administration designed to address both demand and supply that feed international poaching and wildlife trafficking rings.

The Times Square ivory crush builds on momentum from the initial destruction of six tons of contraband ivory in Colorado in November 2013. Since then nine governments have followed suit and have publicly destroyed ivory. Campaigns to reduce demand for ivory domestically and overseas, and to strengthen international laws and enforcement have further elevated the issue of wildlife trafficking globally.

Much of the ivory destroyed at today’s event was confiscated from the Philadelphia, Pa., store of Victor Gordon, an art and antiques dealer who, in 2014, was sentenced in U.S. federal court to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $157,500 in fines and forfeitures for smuggling African elephant ivory into the United States. The seizure was one of the largest of elephant ivory on record in the United States. Other ivory crushed today was seized in operations by NYDEC. Because all the ivory was illegally traded, it could never be sold in the U.S. market.

Elephant poaching is at its highest level in decades, now exceeding the species’ reproductive rate and causing significant declines in the population. Unless the illegal and inhumane slaughter of elephants, rhinos and other species is halted, we will likely see these magnificent animals disappear from the wild in the next several decades.

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and a petition was filed earlier this year to uplist their status to endangered. The species is also protected under the African Elephant Conservation Act. Trade in these animals and their parts is also regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – a global agreement through which the United States and 180 other nations work to protect species at risk.

Although some African elephant ivory (including lawfully hunted trophies and certain other noncommercial items that meet specific requirements) can be imported, the United States prohibits commercial imports and further regulates domestic trade of both raw ivory and ivory products. The Federal Government is currently evaluating ways to further strengthen its elephant ivory trade controls. Meanwhile New York and New Jersey have enacted strong laws to ban the sale of ivory; other states including California are currently considering legislative bans.

In July 2013, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking. The order established an interagency Task Force and charged it with developing a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. With input from an advisory council of experts on wildlife trafficking, the Task Force set forth a robust, whole-of-government approach that focuses on three key objectives to stop wildlife trafficking – strengthening enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife, and expanding international cooperation.

Law enforcement efforts include recent expansion of the Service’s presence overseas by full-time placement of personnel in Thailand, and impending placement of personnel in Peru, Botswana, Tanzania and China. In addition, collaboration between conservation organizations, government agencies, private organizations and local communities supports on-the-ground initiatives to conserve and manage wildlife through improved anti-poaching patrols, monitoring, habitat management, community-based initiatives and other effective conservation programs.

Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS): MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org; Follow: @thewcs.

African Wildlife Foundation: Founded in 1961, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is a leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF’s programs and conservation strategies are based on sound science and designed to protect both the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa’s people. Since its inception, AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted conservation enterprises that benefit local African communities, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation—all to ensure the survival of Africa’s unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kenya and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the United States. For more information, visit www.awf.org and follow us on Twitter @AWF_Official and Facebook at facebook.com/AfricanWildlifeFoundation.

About IFAW: Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, rated most effective by our peers. For 60 years, we have celebrated the protection of all animals and confronted all forms of cruelty. We are the nation’s largest provider of hands-on services for animals, caring for more than 100,000 animals each year, and we prevent cruelty to millions more through our advocacy campaigns. Read more about our 60 years of transformational change for animals and people, and visit us online at humanesociety.org.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is one of the world's leading conservation organizations, working in 100 countries for over half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit www.worldwildlife.org to learn more and follow our news conversations on Twitter @WWFNews.

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