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 This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

Bad News on Poaching Must Strengthen Our Resolve to Protect African Elephants



A scientific study released recently confirms our worst fears – poachers slaughtered about 100,000 elephants in Africa between 2010 and 2012. This horrific and unsustainable carnage amounts to nearly 7 percent of the population per year – a level that exceeds the natural growth rate of elephant populations.

This week we unveiled a public service campaign developed with National Geographic designed to educate consumers here and abroad about the devastating impact of the ivory trade on elephants. It will be showing on a giant electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square during September, sending the message to new audiences in the epicenter of U.S. illegal ivory trade on the East Coast.


Over the past five years, elephant numbers have begun to decline at more than 75 percent of the sites where they still occur.

These populations are in a death spiral. Unless we reverse these appalling trends, most, if not all elephants may vanish from the wild in Africa within a decade.

The real tragedy is that this poaching epidemic is not driven by a need for basic human requirement – food, water, shelter. Instead, African elephants are being massacred in the name of greed and vanity – the desire to have an ivory trinket, no matter the cost.

In response, the United States, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has developed a multi-prong strategy to work with the international community to fight illegal wildlife trafficking in elephant ivory and other products.

This strategy builds on decades of conservation work on the ground in Africa that began in the 1970s, when international trade restrictions were first implemented to protect elephants. In 1989, we expanded our efforts to support elephant conservation when the African Elephant Conservation Act was passed and the African Elephant Conservation Fund established. 

Last year, we crushed six tons of seized illegal ivory to let the world know that the United States will not allow the illegal products of ivory trafficking and poaching to reach the market. And we tightened regulations to limit the amount of illegal ivory coming into and being funneled through the United States.

We’re continuing to help build the capacity and training of law enforcement and game management agencies in African countries to protect their elephant populations and crack down on smuggling rings.

But law enforcement can only take us so far. We can’t ensure the future of elephants unless we can reduce demand for ivory where it is popular.

That’s why this new campaign is so critical. It’s not just about cracking down on criminal gangs of poachers in Africa. It’s about helping people understand that the choices they make as consumers have a direct impact on the demand for ivory.

We’re working in Asia and other large ivory consuming areas to address consumer demand. And the United States is one of the world’s largest markets for these products.

Our window of opportunity to save this species is rapidly closing. But there is still time to act.

We all have a role to play. I hope you’ll check out this campaign and raise your voice for elephants.


I have posted about this terrible situation on Facebook. I've donated to sanctuaries. What else can the average citizen do?
# Posted By June Stewart | 9/7/14 5:49 PM

The U.S.A. Has to ban all imports of ivory! They need a large military force to stop the poaching and killing! If they can see you in your back yard with satellites, surely they can see poachers. I've heard a lot of bravado but not enough action!!!
# Posted By Judy Maxwell | 9/8/14 4:35 AM

I would employ several men with big guns to follow each herd and protect them, give them what ever they needed to get the job done. Unemployment is rife in Africa, this would solve three problems at once, preserve the elephants, employing people, which in turn puts more back into he African economy, and it keeps the tourist dollar flowing in. No elephants no tourists.
# Posted By Kate Booker | 9/8/14 5:13 AM

Your efforts are worthy and cross multiple fronts in this war. It remains perplexing and really astounding, however, that demanding that carving factories in China finally be forced to close remains a silent topic in the international governmental entities entrusted to protect endangered species. As much as the world unites to condemn ISIS and terrorists of that nature, it is time to openly express that rage and disgust with the carving of elephant teeth. All efforts, no matter how noble or well intended, succumb to corrupt officials who prosper by participating in the ivory trafficking, and that corruption will remain. Apparently it is human nature. Face that, expose it, and demand the cure for corruption, which is to close down all trade in ivory and close those factories.
# Posted By Marilyn C | 9/8/14 11:36 AM

I just read of the NRA's statement issued in February 2014, urging its members to write you demanding that guns decorated with ivory be exempted from the US policy of banning the sale of ivory. The rational being that this would render some collectors' guns worthless, and was just a thinly veiled attempt of the Obama administration to further its anti-gun campaign. As one who firmly believes that the African elephant is doomed unless ivory trade is stopped completely, I urge you to ignore the complaints of gun owners. If their gun decorated with dead elephant bits becomes worthless because it can't be sold, they are in the same situation as the curio collector who has a cabinet full of netsuke that cannot be sold. The curio collector can still enjoy his collection if he chooses and the gun collector can still shoot his guns. But both can no longer make money from the trade in dead elephants. And maybe somewhere, one less elephant is left to die with its face hacked off.
Thank you for listening. No reply necessary.
Diane Halvorsen
# Posted By Diane Halvorsen | 9/8/14 2:15 PM

Please people all over the world PLEASE PROTECT OUR ELEPHANTS! NO MORE GREED! These are GODS CREATURES not ours to mistreat! Where ever you are at reach out let the people know the IMPORANTANCE of keep-ing these animals! It's just a beginning...we don't want an end...
# Posted By Carol Dorn | 9/9/14 2:10 AM

1) Maintain, strengthen and do not weaken the regulatory directives/administrative actions established (and pending) through the Federal Advisory Council and the President's Task Force on wildlife trafficking in view of banning the use and trade of ivory in the USA - ivory sponsors terror, the United States must not trade in ivory of any form, type, age or category.

2) Prohibit all trophy imports of ivory (raw ivory) into the USA

3) Engage the Government and law enforcement in Kenya to engage in meaningful action *enforcing* the law at the Mombasa Port - the largest post in east africa "exporting" the largest tonnage of illegal ivory to the east. If the cartels and smuggling networks are crushed, it will ring a louder bell than crushing ivory.

4) More must be done to shut down China's 37+ ivory carving factories. Why the silence about China? The USA and other law abiding nations must diligently point out the association between China's ivory carving factories and terrorism.
# Posted By Rosemary Alles | 9/9/14 7:00 AM

We must stop killing elephants at the current rate (poaching mainly) or they will go extinct. The world must come together and every nation needs to take a firm stand. There needs to be no value placed on ivory. Loopholes such as antique ivory, or the NRA and its political clout opposing legal elephant hunting (trophy) need to be denied. It will take all of us, including the Chinese and all other markets of ivory. Many trinkets of religious nature are tooled from ivory, which seems ironic. The beautiful animal God created being slaughtered for a religious trinket to remind one of God. Changing customs and minds and cultures will take all of us, armed with information. I urge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to be an exemplary leader in the fight to save elephants, and also rhinos, giraffes, lions, and other endangered animals of the world. thank you
# Posted By | 9/9/14 3:49 PM

I am glad to see actions being taken at the demand end of the equation. We need as a country to do more. Elephants can't be saved in zoos. Many other animals can be saved in zoos, and have been, but it is simply not possible with elephants. So much depends on elephants, even climate would be affected if we had no elephants.
I think it's high time not only to discourage the illegal ivory trade, but to discourage trophy hunting.
Elephants are endangered to the point that hunting them in any shape or form cannot be said to serve conservation
Thank you!
# Posted By Aileen | 9/10/14 12:36 PM

Please strengthen the ivory laws in all of the US. Ivory is still being sold as "antiques" or mammoth or ox bone....crackdown and help from here. Also, please urge CITES to BAN IVORY SALES WORLDWIDE, and finally, put pressure on China, Vietnam, and Thailand to stop the trade, and for China to close their carving factories...maybe we shouldn't be celebrating the fact that they are "saving" the panda when they are killing everything else...rhinos, elephants, tigers, etc...

Thank you for helping ALL elephants. (The Asian elephant is not doing too well either).

Natalie U. Gray
# Posted By Natalie Gray | 9/10/14 9:11 PM

Alas as an economist I have to tell you, where legal elephant hunting is prohibited, that is when elephant populations decline. Kenya had over 150,000 when they stopped the hunting — now they have about 35,000. They are killed by farmers, poachers, and without trophy fees (very expensive) from hunters, there is no money for the ogvernments to stop poaching. Most of the recommendations given by the well-meaning folks commenting here will actually accelerate the decline in the African elephant populations.
# Posted By Wow! Only comments from one side? | 9/13/14 12:47 AM

Alas, the massive slaughter of elephants that is going on today is being driven not only by the growing demand for ivory among ever more affluent Chinese, but also as a funding source for terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. Thank you Fish and Wildlife Service for the Times Square billboard. Is the U.S. sending any money or military equipment for anti-poaching efforts?
# Posted By Deborah Wolfe | 9/18/14 8:55 AM

Thank you, US Fish and Wildlife Service for spearheading a hard-hitting, no nonsense approach to this catastrophe. But I have to ask: WHY is CITES allowing China to legally import and possess ivory? CITES is fostering this insanity to continue. WHY?
# Posted By John Burnley | 12/10/14 3:22 PM

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