Why the U.S. Will Crush, Not Sell, Illicit Ivory
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A box of ivory carvings headed for destruction as the United States plans to crush its stockpile of illegal ivory.
Vassil, Wikimedia Commons
The co-host of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel recently spent $350,000 for the chance to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in southern Africa. Corey Knowlton won the Dallas Safari Club's auction for a permit to hunt the rhino in Namibia. Knowlton says he and his family have received death threats after his name was made public through social media. "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die," Knowltontold CNN
. "The older males are killing each other, and something has to be done about it."
Nearly any animal can be legally killed in many parts of Africa, so long as the hunter pays the right amount of money. For rare and endangered species, the cost can escalate to many thousands of U.S. dollars.
"National parks are obviously trying to make money," Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News. "The hunters have to pay the parks if they want to shoot the animals."
It can be a Catch-22, since the parks often struggle to pay their staff, which include those who work to care for and protect the animals. The high price tag of a permit may serve as a deterrent, but it also reflects how much poachers can earn without even benefiting the parks.[/br
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
The payment needed to legally shoot an elephant drops to $50,000 in Zimbabwe, with a further loss of $10,000 if the elephant has no tusks. "The reason rhinos are more valuable than elephants is because the horn is so valuable and in such high demand by the Chinese," Rodrigues said.
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
$20,000 can allow hunters with appropriate permits to kill several rare animals in many parts of Africa. Leopards are on that list, even though The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "threatened."
Kevin Pluck, Wikimedia Commons
The price tag on lions is also $20,000. In terms of what happens to the dead animals, "As far as I know," Rodrigues said, "once the animals are hunted, they are exported to the hunter's home country." Upon arrival, the hunter may preserve the animal's dead body and put it on display.
The cost to legally hunt a cheetah in Zimbabwe is $20,000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "vulnerable," but further mentions that "the known cheetah population is approximately 7,500-10,000 adult animals." In 1975, the number of cheetahs in Africa was estimated at 15,000, revealing that this species has significantly declined in only three generations.
Majestic Roan antelopes also can be hunted for $20,000 in parts of Africa. While its population is more numerous than wild cats, this species has been eliminated from large parts of its former range, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.
Paul Maritz, Wikimedia Commons
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports that sable antelopes possess "high value as a trophy animal."
Ikiwaner, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes the cost to hunt an animal differs if the target is male or female. That is the case for African buffalos, since males have larger horns than females do. The horn size difference costs a hunter an extra two grand to shoot a male African buffalo.
Roland H., Wikimedia Commons
A hunter must pay $5,000 to legally shoot a giraffe in Zimbabwe. The IUCN Red List reports that "a recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place." While giraffes are currently listed as being animals of "least concern," that classification might soon change if the estimate is substantiated.
Valdiney Pimenta, Wikimedia Commons
On the less expensive side of the scale are flamingos, which cost only $100 to legally hunt in Zimbabwe. The value of this and the other animals to conservationists and other animal lovers comes without a price tag, however. To them, the animals are priceless. Nevertheless, by putting a price on the heads of animals, some national parks in Africa earn money that helps to fuel their operations. The biggest problem is poachers, who receive relatively light sentences for their crimes.
Rodrigues explained, "The only thing a poacher would get if they trapped these animals is a jail sentence if they are caught."
To combat elephant poaching, the United States is preparing to publicly pulverize its 6-ton stockpile of illicit ivory this week, which has likely left many wondering, why not just sell it instead?
Though ivory can fetch higher prices than gold, many conservationists argue that destroying confiscated trinkets, carvings and tusks rather than selling them sends a signal to buyers, traffickers and suppliers that ivory will no longer be tolerated as a legitimate commercial product.
"Right now, Africa is hemorrhaging elephants," Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation, said in a statement. "The only way to staunch the movement of illegal ivory is to wipe out the demand, and that begins with destroying stockpiles and stopping trade."
The AWF is also urging countries to go a step further and halt their domestic ivory trade until all elephant populations are no longer threatened. After poaching halved Africa's elephant population in the 20th century, the international ivory trade was banned in 1989. Domestic sales, however, continue in countries like the United States and China. These lucrative legal markets give a cover — and a monetary incentive — for ivory smugglers, the organization argues.
"The stockpiles along with the legality of the ivory trade in some countries creates ambiguity and doubt, and makes law enforcement and the differentiation between legal and illegal ivory almost impossible," reads the AWF's position on ivory stockpiles. "These conditions create the impression that ivory is a legitimate commodity to be traded, held and speculated on, and which will hold or increase in value over the long term."
Currently, it's estimated that more than 30,000 African elephants are killed for their ivory tusks annually. Last year, a report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, found that elephant poaching was at its highest in a decade.
The uptick in killings has been tied to an unsustainable demand for ivory, especially in Asia. Bergin argued that rising affluence in Asia and poverty in Africa has created "a perfect storm with elephants at the center."
A box of ivory carvings headed for destruction as the United States plans to crush its stockpile of illegal ivory.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
"What the rich person demands, the poor poacher provides," Bergin said in a statement. "In between is a nefarious network of criminals, terrorists, rebels, and corrupted officials and business people only too eager to pilfer a slice of the pie."
The ivory crush will be a first for United States, but it follows similar acts by other countries. The Philippine government crushed and burned its ivory hoard earlier this year, and in 2012, and the Central African nation Gabon set fire to its confiscated ivory — all 10,637 lbs. (4,825 kilograms) of it.
Oftentimes destroying ivory isn't just a symbolic gesture. It can be costly to maintain and document the stockpiles and protect them from theft. According to the African Conservation Foundation, Tanzania spent $75,000 each year to secure its stockpile of 12,131 tusks.
The question of what to do with these stores, if not just destroy them, has sparked debate among conservationists in recent years. In 2007, CITES granted Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe an exception from the international ivory trade ban to make a one-off sale of their stockpiles to China and Japan, with the proceeds going to conservation efforts. But at the next CITES meeting, in 2010, Zambia and Tanzania sparked controversy with similar requests. Zambia eventually withdrew its bid and Tanzania's proposal didn't garner enough votes.
CITES, in their 2012 report on the poaching crisis, said researchers have not found a link between these one-off sales and the recent rise in elephant killings. And while AWF noted that successful conservation investments came out of those sales, the group is now encouraging countries to take a more unified stance on the illegitimacy of ivory.
More from LiveScience:
Gallery: Mystery of the Pygmy Elephants of Borneo
Black Market Horns: Images from a Rhino Bust
Anti-Poaching Efforts Pay Off in Thailand