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Friday, June 19, 2015

From the News: Ivory Crush

In 1989, the East African nation of Kenya shocked the world by publically burning its stockpile of ivory.  President Daniel arap Moi personally put the torch to the 20-foot pile of elephant tusks, specially treated so it would burn, thus destroying a tremendously valuable quantity of ivory.    The demand for tusks had decimated Kenya's elephant population, derailed its tourism industry, and cost the lives of several park guards and rangers.  Kenya's message to the world was clear - no more ivory for sale.

The wisdom of President Moi's actions have been debated ever since.  Some people say that strict protection doesn't work, as governments need to manage their elephant populations to prevent over-population in parks, and that the sale of ivory helps fund conservation.  Others say that allowing the legal sale of any ivory at all only creates more demand and makes it harder to keep track of illegal vs. legal ivory.

In a similar symbolic move, today US President Barack Obama has ordered one ton of ivory to be publically crushed in New York's Times Square.  The ivory, confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, will be destroyed with an industrial rock crusher.

Like Moi's burn 26 years earlier, the crush is controversial, and it's not clear whether it will have anything other than symbolism behind it.  That being said, what is clear is that African elephants continued to be slaughtered in droves for their tusks.  They were slaughtered when it was legal.  They are being slaughtered when it is illegal.  And if it is made legal again, they will be slaughtered still, no matter what regulations are put into place.

We need more than a symbolic response to the ivory crises.  But at least acknowledging that there is a crisis is a first step, which is better than nothing.

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