The recent news to crush elephant ivory confiscated by customs agents continues the symbolic effort bringing attention to ivory demand in the United States. I’m glad to learn about the plans to crush the ivory. In Nairobi’s National Park, the site of the first burning of tons of ivory is the pride of conservationist in Kenya. Richard Leakey, then the director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, persuaded President Moi to make a bold statement, to set Kenya Wildlife Department’s stockpile of 2000 tusks on fire (picture below). It was torched on the morning of July 18, 1989. The placard in the park notes that Kenya is “making a statement of global concern: that Kenya would no longer allow the slaughter of its elephants to satisfy market demand for ivory.” The crushing of ivory in Denver will make the same symbolic statement. Regrettably, a couple of decades have passed and history repeats itself.
A 2008 publication by Care for the Wildlife International and Save the Elephants by Esmond Martin and Daniel Stiles) documents the United States as being the second largest retail market for elephant ivory, the first being mainland China including Hong Kong. While this publication is five years old, the slaughter taking place today suggests US demand continues to be a factor.
So I’m thinking, how would I know if ivory is legal or not. How would I even know if I was handling ivory? When Josphat Ngnoyo and Nehemiah Rotich were in New York City last May we were shocked to discover an antique store on Madison Avenue selling a huge variety of ivory. The store owner said much of it was “not real ivory” and any thing that was real was pre-1988, before the enactment of the African Elephant Conservation Law. I have sense learned The U.S. Department of the Interior forensics laboratory is developing or has developed a manual for ivory identification by visual inspection. Elephant ivory is often mislabeled as mammoth ivory coming from Russia. Mammoth, no longer around are not in danger of eradication and therefore not covered by the endangered species law. And there are many other alternatives to elephant ivory. Bone and plastic be made to look and touch like authentic tusk. The Department of Interior’s website where this manual can be had is http://www.lab.fws.gov/html. The site is currently closed due to the government’s shutdown.
Denver doesn’t have a large retail ivory market according to Martin and Stiles research. There is a large market on both coasts where one can find ivory in Los Angeles, San Francisco’s China Town and New York City’s antique stores and flea markets.
Denver’s Federal installation is the large depository of illicit elephant ivory. It is a good thing that we demonstrate there is not street value or black market value for this ivory.