Poached ivory is destroying wild populations of elephants and rhinos across Africa and Asia. The strong demand for ivory takes an estimated 25,000 elephant lives each year.
Now, the government of the Philippines is sending a message to poachers and smugglers, by destroying five tons of ivory confiscated in the country. On Friday, environmentalists, government officials, and the public gathered in Quezon City to witness the pulverization.
"We want to send a strong message that we're against the illegal trade of ivory, these are all contraband." says Theresa Mundita Lim, Director if the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Philippines. Her country's ivory stockpile is spread out on the ground; thousands of disembodied tusks turning a shady parking lot into an elephant graveyard.
First a steam roller crunched over the tusks, but the surprisingly durable ivory withstood the pressure until a backhoe took over, stabbing with the toothy side edge of the bucket.
Smashing removes any chance that the confiscated ivory could back into the marketplace- corrupt officials have been known to pilfer from government warehouses. The Philippines is a major stopover for ivory dealers entering the Asian black market, and Filipinos also buy the ivory to make religious carvings.
The dramatic scene and loud snaps of shattering ivory brings home an issue that seems like a far-away problem.
"If only one child realizes here in the Philippines, what he's seen on TV or books are actually real animals." explains Mundita Lim. "And if he tells his parents 'Please don't buy that ivory', that's good enough impact for us."
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
Poaching for ivory has ravaged populations of wild elephants and rhinos at record rates. An estimated 25,000 African elephants are killed each year and all for the coveted ivory tusks that fuel a global smuggling enterprise.
BRIAN CHRISTY: Yeah, the illegal ivory trade right now is at least a $50 million-a-year industry. And it has resulted in a bloodbath across Africa.
LYDEN: That's Brian Christy. His "Blood Ivory" article in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic drew international attention to the illicit global market for ivory. On Friday, he stood in a parking lot in Quezon City in the Philippines to witness a major symbolic step towards shutting down the illegal ivory trade.
(SOUNDBITE OF SMASHING)
LYDEN: The Philippines' supply of five tons of confiscated ivory wasn't just destroyed. It was smashed, crushed, first, run over by a steam roller...
(SOUNDBITE OF STEAM ROLLER)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LYDEN: ...which was surprisingly ineffective, so they switched to pounding it with a backhoe.
(SOUNDBITE OF POUNDING)
LYDEN: The Philippines is a key stopover in the ivory trade. It's a destination for smugglers unloading their illicit wares into the Asian marketplace. And Filipinos buy the ivory for religious carvings. The confiscated ivory could leak back into the black market if it merely sits in a government warehouse where it can be pilfered and resold by corrupt officials. But pulverizing it takes it out of play forever.
THERESA MUNDITA LIM: We want to send a strong message that we're against the illegal trade of ivory. These are all contraband.
LYDEN: Theresa Mundita Lim is the director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Philippines. She hopes that this dramatic destruction will help people realize their own role in the extinction of the species.
LIM: If only one child realizes that, you know, here in the Philippines, what he's seeing on TV or in books are actually real animals, and if he tells his parents, you know, please don't buy that ivory, then I think that's good enough impact for us.
LYDEN: And hopefully, Lim is right. It's a horrible sound. And when you think about the animal which was once attached to that tusk, its life wasted, think that it might, through this destruction, save another elephant.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LYDEN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.