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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Being Faithful to the Elephant

“I meant what I said
And I said what I meant…
An elephant’s faithful
One hundred per cent!”
Horton the elephant in Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

Horton sits on that bird egg, not because it is easy or fun, but because he made a promise to Mayzie the lazy bird.

We, too, have a promise to keep: to conserve the elephant, whose situation grows more dire with each day.

African elephant bull

Elephants are browsers and grazers, eating both grass and trees. Credit: Michelle Gadd/USFWS

That is why today we are crushing the six tons of ivory seized by our law enforcement division for violations of U.S. wildlife laws over the past 25 years.

Thousands of elephants were slaughtered to harvest the cold, lifeless pile of tusks, figures, trinkets and jewelry we are crushing.

Global demand for ivory continues to rise, and this demand is fueling a poaching epidemic of horrific proportions in Africa. Large-scale massacres have taken place in Chad, Cameroon, Gabon and the Central African Republic in the past year, as well-armed and organized criminal enterprises have taken advantage of insufficient protection in remote areas.

The loss of these animals is an unfolding ecological disaster. It’s also a devastating blow for the people of Africa -– many of whom make a living from tourism tied to elephants.

Destroying this ivory will signal to the world our unflagging resolve as a nation to halt the slaughter of elephants and other imperiled wildlife, and encourage other nations to do the same.

It will show the world that our nation will not tolerate wildlife crime that threatens to wipe out any species.

Some argue that the seized ivory should be sold to alleviate the demand for ivory.

Decades of experience shows that allowing ivory to enter legal trade only makes enforcement harder, by giving traffickers ways to disguise sources of poached ivory.

It also fuels demand, maintaining the perception that ivory is a status symbol, rather than an emblem of greed and callous indifference to life.

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 a moral obligation to respond, and a key role to play. The criminals have raised their game. We are doing the same.

IvorySome of the seized ivory. Credit: USFWS

The Executive Order issued by President Obama in July has spurred the federal government to expand coordinated efforts to combat poaching and trafficking.

We’ve engaged the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking to develop a government-wide strategy that will leverage resources and expertise to crack down on poaching and trafficking for elephants and hundreds of species.

We’re working with law enforcement agencies around the globe to arrest poachers and wildlife traffickers and build the capacity of range state game agencies to protect their wildlife.

We’re providing critical financial and technical support for on-the-ground efforts to save elephants and other wildlife and their habitats, and to reduce the demand for wildlife products.

The good news is that there is still time to save these iconic species.  And you can help.

  • Spread the word! Share photos and videos of our ivory crush, or of elephants in the wild -– infinitely more beautiful than any artwork made from ivory.
  • By buying the Save Vanishing Species stamp at a local post office or online, anyone can directly contribute money to help species like elephants, wild tigers and rhinos. More than 23 million stamps have sold since its inception in 2011, raising more than $2 million for conservation projects.
  • Become better informed. Don’t assume that if you see ivory for sale that it is legal. Ask questions. Know what you are buying.

We hope the crushed ivory will be used to design memorials, which will help educate and build awareness about the plight these animals are facing.  

To borrow from David Attenborough, it would be a real tragedy if future generations know about elephants only by reading Dr. Seuss.

I applaud the work being done to save the elephant. As President of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, the oldest organization of its kind, my members would whole heartedly agree about illegally sourced ivory. However, the antiques trade is being swept into the construct that artworks made of ivory are "bad". This is a tragedy. Visit any major museum and you will see ivory as a material playing an integral part of humanity's culture from its oldest cultures right through to the 20th century. To demonize ivory artworks does no service to the endangered elephant. This limited format does not allow further elaboration, but there are solutions to identifying and even extolling those works that reflect our culture. It is a moral imperative for all of us to be aware of what is not old and what can be done to help in this effort.
# Posted By Clinton Howell | 2/28/14 4:47 PM

I agree with some of the ivory limitations but one I see a detrimental instance. I am a fan of Mechanical Music or in layman's terms a Player Piano. Since most of these were made around the turn of the century or 1920's they fall short of the 100 year requirement for being an "Antique" ivory item. As the rules are currently Fish & Wildlife can come and take most of these and destroy them since it is pretty much impossible to track where and when the ivory came into use. This is just another of the stupid laws out there that should have never been passed. Piano keys on old players and pianos being destroyed will not help elephants.Just like the ban on Ch etas and leopards. Now when I hunt in Africa they ask us to shoot every leopard and cheta we see and let them lay and rot.Why you say. Well if they cannot sell hunts for them then they have no use for them. They eat the other animals that they can sell hunts for so they kill them to get rid of them. That is really helping. Please change
# Posted By David Fowler | 4/15/14 3:27 AM

let's save elephant...
# Posted By idhacker.net | 11/2/14 3:20 AM

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