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Mountain-Prairie Region

A Look Back at the U.S. Ivory Crush

January 14, 2014


Poster graphic for the Ivory Crush event.On Thursday, November 14, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed some six tons of elephant ivory seized over the years by its special agents and wildlife inspectors in connection with violations of U.S. wildlife laws and treaties.

More than 30,000 elephants are killed each year for the illegal ivory trade. Elephant poaching is at its highest level in decades and it continues to rise. These animals are being slaughtered across Africa to meet an insatiable global demand for ivory.


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Poster image for the slideshow. Click on this image to view the slideshow.

  • Afrian elephant bull in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Credit: Joe Milmoe/USFWS

    Illegal trafficking of ivory is a death sentence for an estimated 30,000 African elephants each year. These majestic animals are poached for their ivory, which is viewed as a luxury item and status symbol in many Asian countries, particularly in China.

    Photo Credit: Joe Milmoe / USFWS

  • Photo seized ivory National Wildlife Property Repository at the Rocky Mountain National Arsenal Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado. Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

    Since international commercial trade was effectively prohibited in 1989 (857KB PDF), the US Fish & Wildlife Service has seized more than six tons of African elephant ivory, all of which was retained at the National Wildlife Property Repository on the Rocky Mountain National Arsenal Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado. For years, the ivory was held at the Repository where thousands of other illicit wildlife items are stored. The ivory held prior to the crush was conservatively estimated to represent the slaughter of two thousand elephants.

    Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

  • Photo of the U.S. Ivory Crush logo. Credit: World Wildlife Fund.

    In order to send a clear message to poachers and traffickers that the United States will not tolerate their crimes and the toll they are taking on elephant populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to destroy its stockpile of seized elephant ivory. The date was set for November 14, 2013 at Denver’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge – an urban refuge managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The first step towards crushing illegal wildlife trade would be crushing illegal ivory.

    Photo Credit: World Wildlife Fund

  • Crews begin loading ivory which FWS seized during undercover investigations of organized smuggling operations or confiscating at the U.S. border over the past 25 years. Photo Credit: Robert Segin / USFWS

    In the early hours of a mild November day, Service employees moved the confiscated ivory out of storage. This preparation would set the stage for the crush later in the day.

    Photo Credit: Robert Segin / USFWS

  • Photo of seized ivory. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and are 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 178 other nations work to protect species at risk. Despite these protections, thousands of elephants are killed every year.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Carved and uncarved tusks were stacked prior to being crushed – the tower was a grave reminder of the crisis at hand. Photo Credit: Ivy Allen / USFWS

    Carved & uncarved tusks were stacked prior to being crushed – the tower was a grave reminder of the crisis at hand. In the last ten years, an estimated 11,000 forest elephants were killed in Gabon’s Minkebe National Park alone. During that time period, the population of forest elephants plummeted by an estimated 62 percent across central Africa. Well-armed and organized criminal enterprises, drawn by the lucrative ivory trade, have taken advantage of insufficient protection capacity in remote areas.

    Photo Credit: Ivy Allen / USFWS

  • Photo of a 300-foot-long banner at the crush site to commemorate the tens of thousands of elephants killed each year for the illegal ivory trade. Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS.

    To commemorate the tens of thousands of elephants killed each year for the illegal ivory trade, World Wildlife Fund and the International Fund for Animal Welfare erected a 300-foot-long banner at the crush site.

    Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Photo of Service Director Dan Ashe at the podium. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    Before commencing the crush, Service Director Dan Ashe spoke to those attending the event about the necessity of the ivory crush. “The United States is part of the problem, because much of the world’s trade in wild animal and plant species – both legal and illegal – is driven by U.S. consumers or passes through our ports on the way to other nations. We have to be part of the solution.”

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Photo of the Powerscreen Company industrial rock crusher used to crush ivory at the event. Photo Credit: Ivy Allen / USFWS

    The Powerscreen® Company graciously donated an industrial rock crusher for the event. This particular crusher was selected for its ability to reduce the ivory products in question to a small enough size that they would no longer have commercial value. It featured a recirculating conveyor ensuring that any material that wasn't crushed to the appropriate size after a first crush was passed back through the crusher chamber again. Other countries have taken similar steps to stop elephant poaching. Kenya, Gabon, and the Philippines have previously destroyed their stockpiles of seized ivory.

    Photo Credit: Ivy Allen / USFWS

  • Photo of (from left to right) Kristin Bauer, actress and IFAW Ambassador; Kristin Davis, actress and Patron for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; and Joely Fisher, actress and IFAW Ambassador, pose with Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    A number of celebrities attended the crush to show their support and help raise awareness. Here, Kristin Bauer, actress and IFAW Ambassador; Kristin Davis, actress and Patron for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; and Joely Fisher, actress and IFAW Ambassador, pose with Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Ivory Crush event speakers holding tusks that will be ceremonially placed into a front-end loader to be crushed. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    Speakers representing a host of government agencies and nongovernmental organizations also took part in the event. Each speaker ceremonially placed a tusk into a front-end loader to be crushed. The crush event stemmed from President Obama’s July 1 Executive Order directing U.S. government agencies to ramp up efforts to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Photo of hundreds of intricate ivory sculptures ready to crushed. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    Hundreds of intricate ivory sculptures were crushed. Ivory’s unique properties such as its soft luster, creamy coloration, and smooth feel make it prized by many artisans. Wildlife traffickers often try to disguise the ivory by staining it or concealing it within legal items.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Photo of service employees working together to load small ivory trinkets into the front-end loader. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    Service employees worked together to load small ivory trinkets into the front-end loader. When full, the container in question contained 2,000 pounds of ivory trinkets and jewelry. Employees from across the agency pitched in to ensure the success of the crush. The Office of Law Enforcement, International Affairs, National Wildlife Refuge System, Budget and Administration, and External Affairs Programs set-up, staffed, and broke down the event.

    Photo Credit: USFWS

  • Photo of local, national and international news media photographing and filming the event. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    The Ivory Crush drew local, national and international news media, which broadcast the event across the globe.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Screen captuure of Twitter trends.

    The #IvoryCrush hashtag trended number 1 on Twitter the day of the crush. Photo Credit: Cheryl Semcer (@Crazyforlions)

    https://twitter.com/Crazyforlions/status/401141530419036160

  • Image of social media analytics data associated with the Ivory Crush event. Credit: USFWS

    During the week of the crush, twenty thousand tweets were sent with the #IvoryCrush hashtag. These tweets reached over twenty-six million people across the globe. Many celebrities helped spread the word, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kristin Bauer, Kristin Davis, Ariana Grande, Kirstie Alley, Chelsea Clinton, Pamela Anderson, John Kerry, Juliette Lewis, Hayden Panettiere, and many more.

  • Photo of the rock crusher pulverizing ivory. Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS.

    The rock crusher pulverized nearly six tons of African elephant ivory seized by the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement since 1989.

    Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

  • Photo of industrial-sized bins were filled with the crushed ivory pieces. Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

    As the ivory was crushed, industrial-sized bins were filled with the crushed ivory pieces.

    Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

  • Photo of light catching the debris cloud from the rock crusher. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS.

    Crushing continued until dusk. The light catching the debris cloud created an eerily beautiful sight for onlookers.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Photo of small fragments of crushed ivory after going through the rock crusher. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

    Even after crushing, you can still see small fragments of what once was.

    Photo Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS

  • Photo of small fragments of crushed ivory after going through the rock crusher. Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

    The ivory chips will be used to inform and educate people about the consequences of illegal wildlife trafficking on animals. The ivory fragments are stored temporarily at the Service’s National Wildlife Property Repository. The Service is working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and others to find a new home for the ivory chips that will help raise awareness about global wildlife poaching.

    Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto / USFWS

  • Chinese officials, foreign diplomats, and wildlife organizations look on as China crushes more than six tons of its own ivory stockpile. Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

    Following the United States’ lead, on January 6, 2014 the People’s Republic of China crushed more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory from its stockpile. The widely publicized event was attended by Chinese officials, foreign diplomats, and wildlife organizations and made national news in China, the U.S. and other nations. Many hoped that the crush would raise awareness within China about how Chinese demand for ivory is fueling the elephant poaching crisis.

    Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Conservation Society

  • Image of the U.S. Postal Service Save Vanishing Species Stamp, with a beautiful drawing of an Amur tiger cub, by artist Nancy Stahl. Credit: Nancy Stahl.

    There are many ways to contribute, both large and small, to wildlife conservation. On September 20, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service launched the Save Vanishing Species Stamp, with a beautiful drawing of an Amur tiger cub, by artist Nancy Stahl. Proceeds from the stamp directly benefit the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders - Multinational Species Conservation Funds, which have funded more than 1,800 grants for tigers, elephants, great apes, rhinos, gorillas, chimpanzees, and sea turtles. Since that time, more than 24,500,000 stamps have been sold and more than $2,482,000 has been raised for these imperiled species. More info: http://1.usa.gov/SEVlML.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Office of External Affairs

Mountain-Prairie Region

134 Union Blvd

Lakewood, CO 80228

303-236-7905

303-236-3815 FAX

www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/




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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: February 07, 2014
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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