BANGKOK, November 15, 2013 – Wildlife protection advocates in Asia, where demand and legal markets for ivory continue to fuel poaching, today commended the United States for destroying nearly six tons of confiscated elephant tusks. On Thursday, the U.S. Government destroyed the huge stockpile during the highly publicized Ivory Crush; the ivory had an estimated black market value of $12 million derived from thousands of slain elephants. “The multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade is one of the world’s most lucrative illicit economies,” said U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney. “All of us living in Asia, Africa and the United States must join forces to expose and bring an end to this illegal exploitation. The Ivory Crush sends a clear signal that we are actively committed to protect wildlife.” Along with the United States, many Asian countries are at the heart of the issue; several spurring high demand while others serve as major transit points to traffic illegal wildlife products. Rising affluence and a growing economy in Asia are contributing to the demand for ivory as jewelry, decorations, and religious artifacts, which often symbolize status and prosperity. Buyers often fail to realize that Africa’s elephants are being slaughtered at staggering rates—as many as 30,000 animals in this past year alone—for their ivory. Many rangers have also lost their lives in encounters with wildlife poachers, including in Thailand. With relatively low penalties, lucrative poaching attracts organized crime and terrorist groups that use the money to fund other illegal activities which threaten regional security. It also endangers the lives of those protecting Asia’s and Africa’s rich biodiversity. According to the Royal Thai Customs, authorities at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport seized roughly eight tons of ivory between 2008 and 2012. That amounts to an estimated $16 million of ivory confiscated at a single entry point. This does not include sea ports or land routes, let alone the amount of ivory which entered the country undetected. Regionally, the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) reported the seizure of over 43 tons of smuggled elephant ivory over a five-year period ending in 2012. The U.S. Government and partners work closely with ASEAN and governmental and non-governmental organizations across Asia to combat wildlife trafficking. The Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by anti-wildlife trafficking NGO, Freeland, works with ASEAN-WEN to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement capacity to combat wildlife trafficking, and build and enhance regional partnerships. Coordinated efforts by ASEAN-WEN have contributed to an eleven-fold increase in law enforcement actions by member countries over the last eight years – but far more work is needed.
Last updated: June 17, 2014