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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 This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

By Crushing Ivory, We Began Building Hope for Africa’s Elephants


The largest forest fires can start with a single spark. The same is true for revolutions – not just in the political sense, but also in the way we view and approach the world.

One year ago, the United States sparked the imagination and conscience of the world when we crushed more than six tons of seized illegal elephant ivory at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado on November 14, 2013.

An industrial crusher destroys the ivory. Photo Credit: Kate Miyamoto/USFWS

By crushing the ivory, which had been seized by our law enforcement officers during their investigations into illegal ivory trade, the United States stood up and assumed a leadership role in efforts to fight the poaching and trafficking crisis. Most of all, we gave crucial momentum to this struggle by acknowledging that the problem of poaching and trafficking isn’t just for African or Asian countries to solve. It’s our problem as Americans and global citizens.

Much of the world’s trade in wild animal and plant species – both legal and illegal – is driven by American 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 news has been grim in recent years. In 2013, more than 20,000 elephants were slaughtered in Africa for their ivory tusks – the latest victims of a decade-long massacre fueled by consumer demand for ivory. If trends continue, we could see the African elephant disappear from much of the continent within a decade and face eventual extinction.

So why am I optimistic that we’ve begun to turn the corner?

On November 14, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed 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. Photo Credit: Ivy Allen/USFWS

The ivory crush touched off a cascade of actions to help elephants and other species imperiled by poaching and wildlife trafficking. The list is impressive:

  • China, Chad, France, Belgium, Hong Kong and the Philippines destroyed large portions of their governments’ seized stocks of illegal elephant ivory. Each event broadened and strengthened the growing global alliance against poaching and illegal trade.
  • In July, heads of state from across Africa came together with President Obama and conservation leaders at the President’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where the plight of elephants and other illegally traded wildlife was a significant focus of discussion.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service took action to halt virtually all commercial trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in the United States. These changes close significant gaps being exploited by criminals to disguise the source of poached and trafficked ivory and rhino horn.
  • This summer, the owner of a Philadelphia art store, Victor Gordon, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for smuggling more than one ton of African elephant ivory into the United States. This punishment is one of the stiffest ever levied for wildlife crime, and sets a precedent for future arrests and prosecutions.
  • Last month, the Global March for Elephants brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets in 136 cities on six continents in support of elephant conservation.
  • In partnership with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, we launched a worldwide design competition to seek ideas for how to use the crushed ivory to create an education and awareness campaign that will further reduce the demand for ivory and other illegal wildlife products, and ultimately protect wildlife from senseless killing. The competition will remain open until December 31st, 2014, so if you have an idea that will show the world how the illegal ivory trade is destroying elephant populations and driving them towards the precipice of extinction, please submit it to the competition website.

The crisis certainly isn’t over. But we’ve begun to change the global conversation about ivory – and its perception as a status symbol. More and more people across the world are coming to see ivory products for what they really are – emblems of avarice and callous indifference to suffering.

Of course, this issue is bigger than just elephants. Decades of international efforts to protect and restore wildlife populations are at risk. Rhinos, tigers and other iconic species will also vanish from the wild if current losses continue. That cannot be allowed to happen.

We’ve made enormous progress over the past year, but there’s so much more to do. You can help, by:

  • Consulting the Fish and Wildlife Service before buying, selling or transporting internationally any object containing ivory, tortoiseshell, coral, feathers or other animal or plant products; and
  • Contributing to on-the-ground conservation of elephants, rhinos, tigers, great apes and other endangered wildlife by purchasing the Save Vanishing Species Stamp online or at your local post office. Funds raised through the sale of these stamps go directly to fund research, education, conservation and protection of wildlife in their native habitat.
Guest speakers prepare to load ivory into the crusher. Left to right: Dan Ashe - Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Judith Garber - Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of State, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Ginette Hemley - Senior Vice President, World Wildlife Fund - U.S., Azzedine Downes - President and CEO, International Fund for Animal Welfare, David J. Hayes - Former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Kristin Davis - Actress and Patron for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Dr. Paula Kahumbu - CEO of WildlifeDirect, Joely Fisher - Actress and IFAW Ambassador, Kristin Bauer - Actress and IFAW Ambassador, and Robert G. Dreher - Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice. Photo Credit: Gavin Shire/USFWS

The ivory crush sparked a worldwide determination to act that is burning steadily one year later. With your support, that determination can spread and help elephants and other endangered wildlife thrive in the wild for generations to come.

Learn more about the U.S. ivory crush and our efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade here: http://www.fws.gov/le/elephant-ivory-crush.html.

Don't forget, the Great Elephant Census continues its project; surveying and collecting new data on elelphant numbers across the continent. http://www.greatelephantcensus.com/
# Posted By Great Elephant Census | 11/14/14 3:29 PM

Thank you to our USFWS for publicly crushing the 6 tons of U.S. seized ivory a year ago and for your continued good work to protect endangered species. All of us at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos appreciate your mentioning our October 4th marches. Organizing over 136 marches across the world was an immense undertaking but extremely gratifying, and we're continuing our advocacy for the survival of elephants and rhinos and against both legal and illegal trade, with further peaceful marches and demonstrations in 2015. We continue to encourage other nations to follow the good lead of the U.S. and destroy all ivory and rhino horn stockpiles; and are appreciative of the example you set. In your ivory crush fact sheet, you noted that the seized ivory was "contraband" with no market value that can not legally be sold. We hope other nations also consider their stockpiles in the same manner and respectfully destroy them. Thank you from the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.
# Posted By Lori Sirianni | 11/16/14 7:31 AM

God bless our elephants. I pray that they get protection, and the elephants come back as big families the way they are suppose to live. Thank you Fish and Wildlife and others for working on protection of the elephants and tigers and other beautiful wildlife. I can't wait to see the elephant comeback. I'll be watching for this comeback.
# Posted By Sacramento | 11/17/14 7:50 AM

Doesn't destroying this illegally harvested ivory contribute to perpetuating a worldwide shortage? Obviously any legal supply must not be keeping pace with demand. By not offering it for sale, black market value is kept high increasing the incentive to poaching. Why not flood the market with this confiscated ivory thereby reducing demand and eventually value? Proceeds could certainly benefit management programs. This program looks more like a missed opportunity than something of real value. Habitat preservation is what's important. Millions of dollars for that necessity were turned into dust.
# Posted By | 11/17/14 8:55 AM

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