Was Destroying Over Six Tons of Ivory a Good Idea?

African Elephants in KenyaI am having a hard time understanding the logic behind the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service destroying over six tons of confiscated ivory. Is it a purely symbolic gesture that makes waste of waste or does it really curtail illegal trade in some way?

Earlier this year, the Philippines government — acting under the influence of US guidance — destroyed five tons of ivory.  And frequently ivory is destroyed before it leaves Africa.

Killing elephants for ivory is a brutal, sickening crime that is rapidly destroying the world’s elephant population.  Search online for images of elephants and you’re as likely to find pictures of elephants being butchered half-alive or dead and rotting as you are to find pictures of elephants living in the forests and on the savannahs .

People who smuggle illegal goods — whatever they are — already know if they get caught anything seized isn’t coming back.  It isn’t as if there is a long queue at the Wildlife Service of people waiting to claim ivory.

Elephant at sunset on safari

Elephant at sunset on safari (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

If this gesture does anything from a market perspective, it just reduced an already scarce and costly commodity further. The six tons destroyed by the government was out of reach already with seemingly no impact on demand.  In recent decades, confiscating and destroying ivory hasn’t negatively affected demand at all.  In fact demand is on the rise. That’s the problem.  It certainly has not helped save elephants.  

Moreover, destroying the ivory likely enhances the problem. At minimum it increases the perception of scarcity. How does that help save elephants and stop the illegal trade of ivory?

The problem is demand and that raises enormous challenges for protecting the supply. Sadly, as things look today, the inadequate protection currently in place means soon there will be very few groups of highly protected elephants remaining in the world, essentially the extinction of the wild elephant.

Legalizing limited trade of ivory hasn’t protected elephants either.  Again, the problem is demand which is being supplied by poaching poorly-protected wildlife.  People and priorities are the problem here.  It is an uphill battle, but if people are serious about protecting elephants resources need to be invested in protecting elephants.

My concern is that destroying ivory is a sideshow that has no effect on demand.  It also has no effect on supply.  The confiscated ivory is out of the illegal markets anyway.  If destroying ivory does have an effect, it has a bad one.  It raises the perception — which is already real — that supply is reduced and thus raising the value of the illegal trade giving further incentive to meet demand.


2 thoughts on “Was Destroying Over Six Tons of Ivory a Good Idea?

    1. Tour Guide Post author

      Keep it. Even the idea that it exists is better than it being gone. Destroying it does nothing, and I argue that if does anything at all it only highlights scarcity which is bad for elephants. In the end holding it seems the better option.


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