One Reason Why The U.S. Should Not Destroy Its Elephant Ivory
Last week, the US government “pulverized” nearly 6 tons of elephant ivory from Asia and Africa. Intending to send a message to elephant poachers, the Fish and Wildlife Service destroyed ivory that was seized through law enforcement.
Asked why, the Fish and Wildlife Services says, “As a matter of principle and policy, the Service does not sell confiscated wildlife derived from endangered and threatened species.” Feeling similarly, the Philippines in June 2012 destroyed their seized ivory, Kenya in 1989 and 2011 and Gabon in 2012.
Some people wonder, though whether they are sending the right message.
Citing the recent spike in poaching activity–perhaps 30,000 elephant deaths a year–they say it is all about money. Higher prices are an irresistible incentive. As long as the price remains elevated, poaching will continue. You can see where this is heading. The only solution is to lower the price. And the only way to do that is to increase supply.
A 2013 UN paper, “Elephants in the Dust,” reports that Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, in 1999, were given permission from an international group to sell their government-held ivory to Japan “under tightly controlled conditions” as were Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Namibia in 2008. Used for conservation, it sounds like none of the funds affected black market supply.
Because destroying ivory decreases supply, destroying confiscated ivory ultimately might have a counterproductive impact. It actually could elevate the incentive to poach. Advocates of more supply say that legal markets in ivory should be created. Using supply to lower prices should make poaching less attractive.
Sources and Resources: You can read the US Fish and Wildlife Service announcement and their lengthy Q & A for a firsthand description of their policy. For the analytic side, I recommend this Discovery discussion, and this recent LA Times OP ED. And, for a much more in-depth discussion, this 70+ page report from the UN provides a wealth of facts but focuses minimally on demand and supply as a tool to diminish poaching.