Burning of elephant ivory, rhino horns at NC Zoo postponed

ASHEBORO, N.C. — The North Carolina Zoo has postponed the burning of elephant ivory and rhino horns that was planned for Tuesday.

Legal issues concerning the destruction of state property are being examined.

The zoo had planned to burn more than 200 pounds of elephant tusks and rhino horn valued at nearly a million dollars at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The zoo said in a statement that while it does not put a value on the ivory and horns, the artifacts are state property and thus subject to applicable state law.

The burn was meant to raise awareness of a global crisis within the animal community. Last year, more than 30,000 elephants and 1,000 rhinos were killed and their increasingly valuable ivory and horns were sold illegally.

“In my work in Cameroon, I’ve seen the carnage. Since about 2000, 60 percent of the elephants have been killed, mostly by poachers. If these levels of poaching continue, elephants will no longer be in the wild and that would be a major tragedy,” said Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Mike Loomis last week.

The North Carolina Zoo has been heavily involved in elephant conservation in Central Africa since 1998.

“We remain fully committed to doing our part to demonstrate that these animal parts should be worthless,” said Dr. David Jones, the zoo’s director. “But we must do so in a responsible manner and in adhering to all manners of state law with regard to their destruction.”

8 comments

  • Andrew Wyatt

    Your facts are incorrect. According to CITES Monitoring of Illegally Killed Elephants (MIKE), the international authority on elephants killed for their ivory, approximately 20,000 elephants were killed in 2013; down from a high of 25,000 in 2011 and 22,000 in 2012. The citation of 30,000 elephants killed in 2013 has no basis in fact.

    • Jacalyn Strouble

      Andrew Wyatt: You don’t understand. All surveys of elephants killed in Africa are estimates. Africa covers a lot of territory and much of it is in conflict. Some countries lack the resources to track elephant poaching and the number of elephants killed. Other countries lack the will since corrupt governments and/or local officials and warlords are profiting from the sale of illegal ivory. CITES numbers would naturally be the lowest, since the high profile, regulatory and political nature of that treaty requires a very conservative use of data, perhaps even restricted to confirmed killings. There are also problems inherent in CITES, since African elephants are “split-listed” according to which country they inhabit. This allows a loophole for “laundering” illegal ivory through countries which have less stringent protections. That 20,000 number is very suspect and 30,000 may be low as well.

      From “Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization & Professionalization of Poaching in Africa” (which uses a conservative estimate of 23,000 with the following caveat): “The vastness of elephant ranges, the remoteness of terrain, and the insecurity prevalent in many areas of Africa means large numbers of elephants die in near-complete invisibility, with carcasses not documented until months or years after the fact. Under these conditions, it is possible and even probable that the true rate of poaching is much higher. The scale of ivory trafficking suggests as much: in 2013, TRAFFIC (an investigative division of the World Wildlife Fund) counted 41.5 tons of ivory seized by law enforcement, almost double that of 2011. If the interdiction rate is estimated at 10%, this would imply that the true amount of trafficked ivory in 2013 was closer to 400 tons, or roughly 50,000 elephants. Even this could be conservative given that the so-called “1-in-10” (or 10%) rule for estimating interdiction rates is a Western law enforcement estimate generally applied to more familiar types of contraband, such as narcotics.” (http://www.c4ads.org/#!project-highlights/c21l1)

      • Andrew Wyatt

        Actually I understand perfectly. I certainly understand all the numbers are estimates. In fact, CITES/mike are an extrapolation based on data collected from sites across Africa. The C4ADS report used the number of 23k because their employers, Born Free USA (formerly the Animal Protection Institute) had been touting estimates without basis of 35k to 50k. They did not want to lose all credibility by exaggerating too much, however it was important to the animal rights movement that the numbers appear to be more than last year. Thus they came up with 23k. The Secretary General of CITES is on record as being relieved that poaching numbers have leveled off and are actually down from recent years.

        It is interesting that you bring up Born Free (formerly API) because they have an interesting history with the NC Zoo. A few years back the lead attorney for API and a zoo employee lobbied the NC Legislature to pass a piece of animal rights legislation authored by API and based on misrepresentations of the facts. The NC Zoo supported the bill, but it is illegal for a state employee to lobby the legislature, and she was subsequently fired. Additionally, it was reported in the newspaper in Onslow County that API ( now Born Free) staged an animal escape hoax to gin up fear and support for their bill. Once the media reported what API was up to, the bill failed.

        So please forgive me, but the C4ADS/Born Free/API report you reference lacks any shred of credibility. Born Free got what they paid for.

      • Jacalyn Strouble

        @Andrew Wyatt: You haven’t given one plausible reason to accept the low estimate from CITES. You’ve only made unsupportable arguments against the higher estimates by serving up a tossed salad of red herrings and ad hominem circumstantial attacks on the entities involved.

        I notice that at no point have you shown any concern whatsoever for the core issue – that of the illegal killing of elephants. In fact, you seem quite content that “only” 20,000 elephants were slaughtered last year (if that were indeed the case) to feed the illegal ivory trade and fill the treasuries of corrupt officials, militants, and terrorists. Is this acceptable to you? Why? It’s obvious from your comments that you have some personal stake in authorizing the lowest estimate. Does it have something to do with the fact that you are the President of USARK – U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers – and a government lobbyist against regulation of the trade and ownership of exotic species? Is your crossover to opining on ivory smuggling simply your way of ensuring we have less regulation on all forms of wildlife trafficking? Or does your organization actually need to keep those trafficking lanes and markets open to serve your own collection fetish? As long as you’re dredging up the “interesting history” and affiliations of the other players, perhaps you’d like to enlighten us as to your own.

      • Andrew Wyatt

        Jacalyn- Just because Born Free gives an arbitrarily high estimate of illegal elephant deaths does not make the CITES number low. To the contrary, 20,000 elephants poached for their ivory is a travesty. My problem is Born Free cooking the books with the estimates and trying to pass them off as legitimate. CITES/MIKE is the global authority on the numbers of elephants killed, Born Free is an animal rights organization interested in ginning up their base and raising money from their outrage. Beyond their questionable C4ADS, they have demonstrated a blatant disregard for the truth in NC, and even drew the NC Zoo into their intrigue.

        I am no longer the CEO of USARK. I resigned in 2012. You are also incorrect regarding the nature of the work I did there. USARK cared nothing about the import of of reptiles into the US, only for the legal trade in high quality captive bred specimens here in the US. I have no direct interest in the ivory debate other than to point out that arguments are being made, in some cases, with numbers that would not “hold up in court.” Why do you insist on the falsified statistics? Do you feel that the 20,000 elephants killed last year is not sufficient to make the case against poaching? I think it is a horrific number. The truth will suffice here. We don’t have to fudge the facts to get support for anti-poaching efforts. I am 100% behind efforts to stop elephant poaching in Africa and Asia.

  • Mark Stabler

    While it seems like a good gesture, putting one million dollars worth of State property up in smoke seems a little senseless to me.

    • Jacalyn Strouble

      Mark: It’s not a gesture. We are long past the point of symbolic gestures. The treaties and the regulations on illegal ivory which still allow for the sale of legal ivory are not working. The sale of legal ivory is simply fueling the market and allowing poachers to operate with impunity because corruption and the laundering of illegal ivory into the legal marketplace are so endemic. At the current rate of poaching the African elephant could go extinct in a decade. Their only hope is to shut down ALL trade in ivory, which would make these stockpiles worthless (as legal ivory) and problematic to retain. Selling it is just not an option for those who are dedicated to the conservation of the species. And the security of such ivory stockpiles, given its value, may become a risky and costly enterprise.

    • Andrew Wyatt

      I agree with you Mark. The ivory in question is owned by the State of NC. The Federal “Ivory Crush” was supposedly confiscated “illegal” ivory derived from poaching that was being destroyed by US Fish & Wildlife Service as a deterrent to ivory traffickers. However, there remain many questions as to the effectiveness as an anti-poaching tool the “crush” actually was. It is quite possible that adopting a strategy that relies on symbolism rather than real conservation on the ground in Africa is actually increasing profits for poachers and could reverse the recent downward trend in elephant killings. The ivory at NC Zoo is “natural death” ivory collected over the years from the zoo’s collection of elephants. It has absolutely nothing to do with ivory poaching nor elephant conservation.

      If you are interested, I have written two articles on the topic. The most recent was published in the National Geographic entitled, “Blood Ivory and More Dead Elephants”: http://andreww1blog.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/blood-ivory-and-more-dead-elephants/ The second article is entitled, “Terrorists, Tusks and the Ivory Crush”: http://andreww1blog.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/terrorists-tusks-and-the-ivory-crush/

      “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” ~Thomas Sowell

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