Sunday, November 17, 2013

This Just Doesn't Make Sense To Me

This past Thursday the US Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed six tons of illegally-obtained elephant ivory. They destroyed it by running it through a rock crusher at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. The six tons of confiscated ivory were accumulated over the last 25 years.

The official purpose for destroying the ivory was "to crack down on international poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking" according to the Fish and Wildlife Service's release announcing the destruction.
“Rising demand for ivory is fueling a renewed and horrific slaughter of elephants in Africa, threatening remaining populations across the continent,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We will continue to work aggressively with the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies around the world to investigate, arrest and prosecute criminals who traffic in ivory. We encourage other nations to join us in destroying confiscated ivory stockpiles and taking other actions to combat wildlife crime.”

Some six tons of ivory were pulverized by an industrial rock crusher in front of some of the world’s most influential conservationists. Speakers included U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe; Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President of World Wildlife Fund; Azzedine Downes, CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare; and Paula Kahumbu, Executive Director of WildlifeDirect. Remarks were also provided by Robert Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and Judy Garber, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

“By crushing its contraband ivory tusks and trinkets, the U.S. government sends a signal that it will not tolerate the senseless killing of elephants,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “Other countries need to join the United States, Gabon, Kenya and the Philippines to take a stand against the crime syndicates behind this slaughter."

“The destruction of the U.S. ivory stockpile speaks loud and clear to those who value ivory more than saving the elephant species from extinction,” said Downes. “IFAW commends the government’s action that underscores the critical role the United States can play in ending the illegal ivory trade.”
It should be noted that hunting of elephants in certain parts of Africa is 100% legal and that the importation of trophies (including tusks) from these elephants is permitted. Moreover, the importation of antique ivory is also legal and permitted.
I am against the violation of game laws and poaching. Whether it is an undersize redfish, an out of season brook trout,  or an African elephant taken by poachers using AK-47s, violations should be prosecuted.

That said, this just doesn't make sense to me. How does destroying this ivory do anything to stop the poaching of elephants? This is especially true if, as the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe notes, "rising global demand for ivory is erasing those hard-fought gains" against poaching. The basic laws of supply and demand would dictate that even if demand remains the same, the decline in supply will increase the price. If the actions of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Obama Administration are causing the price to increase, would not this encourage poachers even more?

Perhaps I'm naive but it would seem to me that the use of proceeds from a controlled sale of confiscated ivory to fund more game wardens in Africa, to reimburse native farmers whose crops are trampled by the elephants, and to finance the prosecution of poaching organizations at all levels would do more to conserve and protect African elephants than pulverizing this ivory.

I guess my problem in understanding the rationale behind all of this is that I'm not a politician or a bureaucrat or work for a NGO.


  1. Don't be silly, the reason is obvious. Anything that is obtained by violence is tainted. We can't stop the legal violence (yet), but we can certainly show our moral superiority by refusing to profit from something that carries the psychic stink of murder.

    Did that sound plausible? I can't get my head far enough up my backside in order to get the same outlook as the animal deifiers, but sometimes I can simulate their crazy thought patterns.

    1. Well, given that all government is the collective use of violence, that means we should toss the secretary of the interior into the shredder as well.

    2. Why stop with just the one Secretary? A shredder big enough to eat a man is big enough to eat an entire Cabinet...

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  3. Alternately, the ivory is a symbolic stand-in for the poachers, and by destroying it they are symbolically (and perhaps ritualistically) killing the poachers.

    Kind of like voodoo, really.

    1. That's the explanation that argues against doing this kind of thing. We see the same kind of thing when city officials crush guns that were used in a crime (or even in lawful self-defense), and in gun "buybacks." I'd say there's probably some of that mentality at work here.

      The alternate explanation, which argues in favor of crushing the ivory, is that this is a zealous measure to ensure that no one could possibly profit from those poached elephants.

      I'd say there's probably some of both mentalities at work in this case.

  4. Not sure I understand it, either. Kind of like the old, "Eat all your food; there are starving children in Africa/Europe." How does eating all my food when I'm not hungry help them?

    In the case of the ivory, it may even ramp up the illegal poaching to replace the now-diminished supply of ivory.

  5. It sends a message with a nice visual and allows people who allow their emotions to override their reason to feel good about "doing something".

    A controlled sale that actually benefited the species doesn't have the same imagery.

  6. The ivory is "contraband", and the law (and various international treaties, IIRC) doesn't permit any exceptions for lawful private possession of ivory obtained illegally, so who could they sell it to?

    Which goes to show that the law is stupid, and should be updated to reflect economic realities -- the government selling the confiscated ivory and using the proceeds to fund greater protection efforts both would (slightly) reduce demand (hitting that side of the poaching issue) and additional protection efforts funded with the proceeds would hit the supply side of the issue.

  7. Based on the culture of corruption that is our government I would speculate that several tens or hundreds of pounds of ivory were preserved and distributed to friends and relatives.