Three tons of seized ivory from poachers sits in a police store house in Uganda. American officials intend to crush twice that today as a deterrent against poaching. (Image Source: Reuters)
Today, American officials under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will crush 6 tons of seized ivory, which likely came from poachers in Africa. The crushing of ivory will occur at the National Wildlife Property Repository outside Denver. The intent of crushing the ivory is to deter poachers from continuing their trade. Such tactics have been used in the War on Drugs, through the seizure and destruction of several tons of illegal drugs. However, the problem with the destruction of such drugs then, as is the case now with crushing poached ivory, is the same: Such destruction, by matter of economics, will not stop the poaching trade. It will, in fact, only inspire poachers to kill elephants and rhinos for their ivory in greater numbers.
The reasoning against the ivory crush is very simple. Crushing ivory removes them from the market, which reduces the supply of ivory. In reducing the supply of poached ivory, the actual value of the ivory increases significantly, especially when demand for ivory remains stable. Crushing this ivory, even though most of it has been worked into art sculptures, only increases the potential profits for poachers, thus giving them the incentive to poach even more elephants than they were doing previously. Similarly, the destruction of drugs led to a similar situation.
Removing the supply of poached ivory will not stop its trade, reducing or mitigating the demand for it will. The primary consumers of ivory in the world, poached or otherwise, are China and Thailand. Both lack any controls for ivory smuggling, and due to China's nigh-colonial involvement with several African countries, the sight of Chinese nationals being ivory smugglers or leaders of the poached ivory trade has become common. The best way to address this is to pressure China, as well as the hand of other national consumers, into stepping back ivory sales, if not banning them outright. Regulation would be necessary in this situation, which China would not be too keen on, and Thailand has difficulty enforcing. Targeting smugglers may also help once in a while.
However, these ideas fall on deaf ears among American officials, who still think destruction of supply will deter people from buying poached ivory, and make poachers, who will probably never hear about or see the destruction of the ivory, think twice about their actions. Strangely, the American government seems intent on putting the crushed ivory into a display case. Never has there been a greater display of sound and fury, signifying nothing.