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US will crush a 6-ton stockpile of ivory as a message to poachers

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Seizure of illegal elephant tusks in Kenya
Seizure of illegal elephant tusks in Kenya

The US government hopes to send a crushing message to anyone involved in the illegal ivory trade — by decimating a 6-ton stockpile of seized elephant ivory.

In an announcement posted online, the US Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) describes plans to "pulverize" a cache of ivory on November 14th. All of the ivory was obtained, the agency notes, from law enforcement efforts to crack down on trafficking over the last two decades. "Destroying this ivory tells criminals who engage in poaching and trafficking that the United States will take all available measures to disrupt and prosecute those who prey on, and profit from, the deaths of these magnificent animals," reads a statement on the FWS website.

The items set to be destroyed include entire tusks, statues, and jewelry

The so-called "ivory crush" is a first for the agency, which has previously stored all seized contraband at various government facilities. The items set to be destroyed include entire tusks, statues, and jewelry, much of which was at one point used in legal proceedings and later kept for the education and training of personnel. All told, the FWS estimates that the ivory represents several thousand slaughtered elephants.

The crush, which will rely on industrial machinery to smash the ivory into smithereens, is only one part of a broader federal initiative to thwart poaching and illegal trafficking. First announced by President Obama in July, the $10 million campaign will also train park rangers and local officials in African poaching hubs, and work towards mandating stiffer penalties for anyone caught smuggling ivory into the United States. Yet another effort, this one launched by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, is performing DNA analysis on seized ivory in an effort to track its origins and zero in on where poaching is most ubiquitous.

Elephant poaching is making a devastating comeback

These efforts come at a time when elephant poaching is making a devastating comeback: an international ban on ivory sales in 1989 has recently been undermined by increased demand for illicit ivory, and the FWS now estimates that some 30,000 elephants are killed each year.