Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today commemorated the ceremonial crushing of nearly two tons of confiscated illegal ivory in an event hosted by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Tiffany and Co. in Central Park. Dozens of international and national conservation organizations joined together to send a strong message to the world that New York State and its partners will work tirelessly to end wildlife crimes that threaten to wipe out African elephants and a host of other species around the globe.
“These actions make it clear that in New York, we condemn the depraved, violent and illegal industry that is ivory sales,” Governor Cuomo said. “The ivory crush along with our vigilant enforcement efforts take us one step closer to ending this senseless slaughtering of animals – I urge other leaders across the nation and across the globe to join us is working to protect these magnificent threatened species for generations to come.”
In 2014, Governor Cuomo championed a new law that effectively banned the sale of elephant and mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horns in New York and strengthened the criminal and civil penalties for buyers and sellers whose actions are endangering elephant populations worldwide. Since the ban was enacted, DEC’s enforcement actions have targeted 16 corporations and 31 individuals, seizing thousands of individual ivory pieces with a total market value of more than $10 million. The nearly two tons of ivory tusks, trinkets, statues, jewelry, and other decorative items were confiscated by DEC’s Environmental Conservation Officers through enforcement actions over the last several years. Street value of the ivory is estimated at approximately $8.5 million and represents more than 100 elephants.
“Through Governor Cuomo’s leadership, our Environmental Conservation Officers are working tirelessly to crack down on this illegal trade and we continue to send a strong message across the globe that illegal wildlife trafficking must end,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “I commend the Wildlife Conservation Society, Tiffany and Co. and our other conservation partners who joined with us today to highlight our ongoing enforcement actions and efforts to reduce the market for illegal ivory.”
John Calvelli, WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and Director of 96 Elephants campaign said, “By crushing a ton of ivory in the middle of the world’s most famous public park, New Yorkers are sending a message to poachers, traffickers and dealers who try to set up shop right here on our streets: We won’t stand for the slaughter of elephants. Nobody needs an ivory brooch that badly.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said “We cannot sit idly back and accept the rapidly vanishing population of elephants around the world. While there is no swift solution to this crisis, sustained advocacy, stricter laws, and aggressive prosecution can and will drive down the demand for ivory. Today’s event demonstrates that New York has zero tolerance for the sale of illegal ivory and other forms of wildlife crime. My office and our partners at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society are committed to doing everything we can locally to protect this species and end poaching once and for all.”
A new report from the wildlife organization TRAFFIC credits DEC’s enforcement actions for drastically reducing the ivory market in New York since the ivory ban was enacted. Once the leading market for illegal ivory in the United States, New York City has now dropped to 3rd in the wake of the ban. In September 2016, DEC and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced the largest seizure of illegal elephant ivory in New York State history after the owners of an antique store were found to be selling ivory items at a price of more than $4.5 million.
African elephants are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and further protected under the U.S. African Elephant Conservation Act. Commercial international trade in elephants and their parts is also prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – a global treaty through which the U.S. and 181 other countries work to protect species at risk due to trade. Despite local successes and progress in some countries, tens of thousands of elephants are still being killed illegally every year in Africa for their ivory, with about 20,000 killed in 2015 alone. Since 1989, the population of African elephants has fallen by half, to about 400,000. The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that between 2010 and 2012 alone, some 100,000 – nearly 96 every day – were poached across the continent to fuel the ivory trade.
Elly Pepper, Deputy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Wildlife Trade Initiative said, “Just like the ivory being destroyed today, the lives of elephants are being crushed by the illegal demand for their tusks. The situation is dire for these magnificent creatures. As the poaching crisis continues and extinction looms, elephants desperately need the worldwide attention that events like these garner.”
Brooke Runnette, Executive Vice President, Chief Program and Impact Officer of the National Geographic Society said, “National Geographic is committed to protecting the world’s treasured wildlife and wild places, which is why we’re so pleased to be part of today’s event. Using the combined power of science and storytelling, we strive to shed a light on wildlife crime while inspiring communities and stakeholders to act so that elephants and other species thrive for generations to come.”
Kris Vehrs, Principal Executive Vice President of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums said, “AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been educating the public for years about the tragic impact of illegal wildlife trafficking and its impact on elephants and other species in the wild. We are proud to stand here with DEC, the Wildlife Conservation Society and our other members and partners as they crush tons of confiscated ivory. Elephants in AZA-accredited zoos are wildlife ambassadors which educate the public, create life-long conservationists, and raise money to support vital conservation efforts. AZA will continue to raise awareness about the wildlife trade, to serve as a resource for our members, and to inform visitors at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums about the plight of elephants in the wild and how they can make a difference.”
Iris Ho, Wildlife Program Manager for Humane Society International said, “As we crush close to two tons of ivory trinkets today, we remember the majestic elephants whose lives were cruelly sacrificed by poachers after their tusks. It’s a sad and stark reminder that the African elephant remains under threat until – and unless – demand for ivory is stopped not only here in the U.S. but also globally. We must protect the remaining elephants, whose numbers are decreasing daily, and support enforcement initiatives such as the ones taken by New York State to clamp down on ivory sales and help stop this industry once and for all.”
Jeff Flocken, International Fund for Animal Welfare, North American Regional Director said, “The State of New York is showing today that they are standing by their commitment to save elephants. The killing won’t stop until the demand for ivory ends, and today’s crush sends a statement that New York and all the partners gathered here are working to make the end of ivory markets a reality. Ivory belongs on elephants. Period.”
Ivory crushes have occurred around the globe since 1989 as a way for governments to send a stern message to poachers, traffickers and buyers and raise public consciousness. By removing the ivory from the market, experts believe ivory crushes devalue the market and will help lead to an end to the ivory trade. The first U.S. ivory crush took place in Denver, Colorado, in 2013. Similar events have been held in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Gabon, Kenya, and Belgium.
Tiffany & Co., a leader in sustainability and a member of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, is supporting the event while also launching Tiffany Save the Wild, a collection of elephant charms and brooches with 100 percent of net proceeds donated to support elephant conservation.
As of June 2016, more than 19 countries and territories had destroyed more than 320,000 pounds (145 metric tons) of confiscated ivory representing roughly 14,600 elephants.