France crushes illegal ivory haul

February 07, 2014 - 9:30:36 am

Around three tonnes of illegal ivory seized by French customs agents are pulverized into dust as part of Europe’s first destruction of a stockpile of the banned elephant tusks.

PARIS: France fired the latest volley yesterday in the world’s uphill battle against African elephant poaching, crushing three tonnes of illegal ivory in a ceremony at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. 

The contraband, with an estimated street value of $1.4m, was fed into a giant crushing machine and ground into tiny fragments to be carted off and incinerated.

It was the first major crushing ceremony of ivory in Europe since a global ivory ban was imposed in 1989. “With this destruction today... France is sending an unequivocal message to poachers, traffickers and consumers of illicit wildlife products,” said French Environment Minister Philippe Martin who attended the event. 

“We are resolved to continue the fight against trafficking, and to remove any temptation to recover the seized ivory” for the contraband market.

Africa’s elephants are being massacred in droves in a bid to meet surging demand for ivory from the growing economies of Asia, particularly China and Thailand. Some 22,000 African elephants were killed illegally in 2012, according to a report last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which warned of “local extinctions if the present killing rates continue”.

The African elephant population is presently estimated at some 500,000 individuals  —about half the 1980 total. Environmentalists say destroying confiscated ivory is the only way of ensuring that the contraband is permanently removed from the market.

“There are several cases of seized ivory being ‘lost’ from stockpiles, ie stolen, then re-entering illegal trade,” wildlife crime specialist Wendy Elliott of green group WWF said

French environmental group Robin des Bois, or “Robin Hood”, estimates that France has seized some 17 tonnes of the commodity from smugglers 

The ban has since been partially overturned to allow limited legal sales — a move that many conservationists claim has boosted black-market demand. 

Most of France’s stash has been held in museums or the storerooms of police and judicial agencies.

The destroyed stockpile consisted of 2.3 tonnes or 698 individual tusks, both unadorned and engraved, as well as 15,357 ivory ornaments including bracelets, necklaces and sculptures.