Today, Sri Lanka crushed and destroyed its biggest-ever haul of 359 ivory tusks, the country’s entire stockpile, at the Galle Face Green in Colombo.
This is the first time a South Asian country is destroying its illegal ivory stockpile, an act that is meant to demonstrate the country’s intolerance for wildlife crime.
Today’s ivory crush began with a religious ceremony performed by Buddhist monks, and Hindu, Muslim and Christian representatives, who prayed for the elephants that have lost their lives.
In May 2012, customs authorities at the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka seized a shipment of 359 African elephant tusks. The ivory shipment, weighing around 1.5 tons, was being moved from Kenya to Dubai, with Sri Lanka as a transit point. Hundreds of elephants in Africa, including juveniles, are believed to have been slaughtered for these tusks.
Today, these 359 ivory tusks — Sri Lanka’s biggest-ever haul and the country’s entire ivory stockpile — are being crushed and destroyed at the Galle Face Green in Colombo, an act that is meant to demonstrate the country’s intolerance for wildlife crime. Later, the ivory will be burned in an incinerator, according to National Geographic news.
This is the first time a South Asian country is destroying its illegal ivory stockpile. Globally, Sri Lanka is the sixteenth country to destroy its ivory, joining countries like the U.S., Kenya, Belgium, Chad, China, Thailand, the Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Mozambique, France, Gabon, Zambia, Hong Kong SAR China, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates.
Today’s ivory crush began with a religious ceremony performed by Buddhist monks, and Hindu, Muslim and Christian representatives, who prayed for elephants that were butchered for the tusks.
Scientists estimate that between 2010 and 2012, poachers have killed over 100,000 African elephants. But whether the destruction of ivory stockpiles actually reduces elephant poaching has been heavily debated.
Yet, flooding markets with ivory doesn’t help curb poaching either, experts say, and may even increase poaching. One problem, Daniel Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Scientific American, is that putting more ivory into the legal supply chain “would create a smokescreen for illicit trade in ivory, making law enforcement and effective prosecution of criminals more difficult.”
A similar threat loomed over the 359 ivory tusks seized by Sri Lankan customs officials in 2012. Following the seizure, Sri Lanka’s then President Mahinda Rajapaksa attempted to “misappropriate” the ivory tusks in December 2012 by allegedly directing the Director General of Customs to hand over the entire stock of seized ivory to the Presidential Secretariat. The ivory, the government claimed, would be utilized for a “magnanimous trust work”, which included distributing the ivory to big Buddhist temples.
This expose was followed by considerable public outcry and media backlash.
Conservationists argued that by doing this, Sri Lanka would be violating its obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Experts also feared that if the tusks were given to temples, “they could eventually re-enter the black market, driving further demand for a trade that is decimating the world’s largest land animal.”
However, unlike the previous President Rajapaksa-led government, the current Sri Lankan government pushed for the public destruction of ivory, a step that is being applauded by conservationists.
“Today’s event also provides a very public opportunity to warn those people who trade illegally in ivory that the age and origin of the contraband can now be readily identified through the use of modern forensics, making prosecution and conviction far more likely,” John Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, said. “Illegal trade in ivory is shifting from high profit, low risk to high risk, low profit.”