Wildlife protection advocates in Asia, where demand and legal markets for ivory continue to fuel poaching, today commended the United States for destroying nearly six tons of confiscated elephant tusks.
On Thursday, the U.S. Government destroyed the huge stockpile during the highly publicized Ivory Crush; the ivory had an estimated black market value of $12 million derived from thousands of slain elephants.
“The multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade is one of the world’s most lucrative illicit economies,” said U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney. “All of us living in Asia, Africa and the United States must join forces to expose and bring an end to this illegal exploitation. The Ivory Crush sends a clear signal that we are actively committed to protect wildlife.”
Along with the United States, many Asian countries are at the heart of the issue; several spurring high demand while others serve as major transit points to traffic illegal wildlife products. Rising affluence and a growing economy in Asia are contributing to the demand for ivory as jewelry, decorations, and religious artifacts, which often symbolize status and prosperity. Buyers often fail to realize that Africa’s elephants are being slaughtered at staggering rates—as many as 30,000 animals in this past year alone—for their ivory. Many rangers have also lost their lives in encounters with wildlife poachers, including in Thailand.
With relatively low penalties, lucrative poaching attracts organized crime and terrorist groups that use the money to fund other illegal activities which threaten regional security. It also endangers the lives of those protecting Asia’s and Africa’s rich biodiversity.
According to the Royal Thai Customs, authorities at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport seized roughly eight tons of ivory between 2008 and 2012. That amounts to an estimated $16 million of ivory confiscated at a single entry point. This does not include sea ports or land routes, let alone the amount of ivory which entered the country undetected. Regionally, the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) reported the seizure of over 43 tons of smuggled elephant ivory over a five-year period ending in 2012.
The U.S. Government and partners work closely with ASEAN and governmental and non-governmental organizations across Asia to combat wildlife trafficking. The Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by anti- wildlife trafficking NGO, Freeland, works with ASEAN-WEN to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement capacity to combat wildlife trafficking, and build and enhance regional partnerships. Coordinated efforts by ASEAN- WEN have contributed to an eleven-fold increase in law enforcement actions by member countries over the last eight years – but far more work is needed.
“Historically, ivory sitting in government warehouses around the world has been stolen by crooks and corrupt officials, finding its way back into the black market. This strengthens transnational organized crime. It’s a time bomb,” said FREELAND Director Steven Galster. “We applaud the U.S. Government for taking proactive measures with this Ivory Crush to counter the illegal wildlife trade and encourage other governments to follow suit.”
Note to the editor:
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is an independent U.S. Government agency that operates under the foreign policy direction of the U.S. Secretary of State. Following 50 years of improving lives through development and humanitarian assistance, USAID is the principal U.S. Government development agency partnering with countries throughout the world to promote peace, prosperity, and security. The USAID-funded Asia’s Regional Response to EndangeredSpecies Trafficking program is the U.S. Government’s largest program to counter wildlife trafficking and addresses the Presidential Executive Order to combat illicit wildlife trade.
Funded by USAID and implemented by Freeland, the program fights wildlife trafficking in Asia by reducing consumer demand, strengthening law enforcement, and enhancing regional cooperation and anti-trafficking networks such as the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network. Visit www.usaid.gov/asia-regional or follow www.facebook.com/USAIDAsia and Twitter @USAIDAsia for more information.
Freeland is an international conservation organization dedicated to a world free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Freeland works throughout Asia, raising public awareness and building local capacity to protect critical ecosystems, wildlife and vulnerable people. Freeland is the lead implementing partner for the Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking, a program sponsored by the United States Government in partnership with ASEAN and over 50 governmental and non- governmental organizations. For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow Freeland on Twitter @FREELANDpeople or facebook.com/freelandfoundation