P420-M worth of ivory tusks crushed in symbolic act
MANILA, Philippines - Over 5 tons of smuggled ivory tusks–valued at roughly P420 million–were crushed on Friday, June 21 to symbolize the Philippine government's commitment to fight illegal ivory trade.
At 10:30 am, environment department officials, representatives of African governments and the media witnessed the crushing of the tusks with the use of a road roller at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City.
It soon became evident that the road roller could not succeed in totally pulverizing the rock-hard tusks, some of which were over 4 feet long.
Government officials prepared for this and announced during a press conference that after the symbolic crushing, the left-over bits of tusks would be cremated at the animal crematorium of the Bureau of Animal Industry. This is in contrast to the open-air burning of ivory tusks by Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi in 1989 which was criticized by environmentalists.
"This act is a strong statement to the rest of the world that the Philippines is serious and will not tolerate illegal wildlife trade," Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje told a press conference preceding the crushing.
"This smuggled ivory despite their worth in the black-market represent hundreds of slaughtered elephants killed by poachers. The Philippines will not be a party to this massacre. We refuse to be a conduit to the cycle of killing."
The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), the largest database of elephant tusk seizures, identified the Philippines as a major transit point for ivory coming from Africa or other Asian countries en route to China, where the demand for the tusks is high.
This the first time an Asian country destroyed its stockpile of valuable tusks. The 5 tons come from an original stockpile of 13.1 tons confiscated at Manila ports and airports after being smuggled from Africa in 2005 and 2009. Some 8 tons are reportedly still missing.
Watch a video of the crushing of the tusks here:
Why destroy tusks?
Paje said destroying the multi-million-peso pile of tusks devalues the contraband and lessens the risk that they will be sold in the black market.
It is also the government's reaffirmation of its commitment to uphold the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an agreement among 175 states to regulate trade of flora and fauna to safeguard biodiversity. The Philippines is a signatory to CITES.
He added, "We are doing this to highlight the continued poaching in African countries and to show support to their government in the fight against poachers and syndicates."
Environmental organization Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) lauded the DENR for the decision, calling it a "strong, symbolic move."
But they cautioned that more has to be done to vanquish the illegal trade.
“While destroying ivory puts it out of temptation’s way, an essential element of such an act is that the stockpiles are fully and transparently audited so that it is clear what ivory is being taken out the system and where it originated—only then can outside observers have real confidence in the integrity of the ivory removal,” said Dr Colman O Criodain, WWF’s wildlife trade policy analyst.
Not all the tusks will be destroyed.
According to Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Director Thesera Mundita Lim, 260 kilograms will be kept as evidence for pending smuggling cases while 60 kilos will be used for "educational purposes and enforcement training." The sample tusks can be used to teach enforcers how to identify ivory.
A few will be made into an "elephant memorial" within the park to remind people of the country's stand against ivory trade.
The penalty for ivory traders in the Philippines is 12 years in prison and a fine of P2 million.
Paje said the DENR will also beef up border security to ensure that no entry of the contraband can happen in the future. The department plans to launch a campaign to involve communities in keeping an eye out for the illegal trade. A wildlife enforcement manual has been distributed to enforcement officers on proper handling of evidence so that illegal traders can be prosecuted.
When Rappler asked about updates on the investigation of the missing 8 tons of smuggled ivory, Lim said, "We've been partnering with National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Customs to investigate this matter. The investigation results are still under wraps and we're still waiting for an official report because we do not want to affect any operations on-going."
Lawyer Bryan Christy of National Geographic urged consumers to be vigilant about ivory sold in the market. The material is used to make religious statues and figurines, jewelry, billiard balls and cues and pistol grips among other things.
In the Philippines, ivory is mostly used to make religious images. The largest ivory crucifix in the country is 30 inches long and was carved from a single tusk. Paje said makers of these statues should use substitute materials. - Rappler.com