France on Thursday became the first European country to publicly destroy illicit ivory stocks, crushing more than two tonnes of the contraband in a public ceremony at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
The ivory, worth an estimated one million euros, was fed into a giant crushing machine and ground into tiny fragments which will be sent off for incineration (see slideshow below).
It was the first time ivory has been publicly destroyed in Europe since a global trade ban was imposed in 1989.
"With this destruction today, France is sending an unequivocal message to poachers, traffickers and consumers of illicit wildlife products," French Environment Minister Philippe Martin, who attended the event in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in central Paris, said Thursday.
"We are resolved to continue the fight against trafficking, and to remove any temptation to recover the seized ivory" he added, referring to the significant contraband market for ivory.
Some 22,000 African elephants were killed illegally in 2012, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which warned that elephant poaching "could soon lead to local extinctions if the present killing rates continue".
One elephant is killed every 15 minutes
The African elephant population is estimated at around 500,000 - approximately half the 1980 total.
French environmental group Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) has reported that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes.
The group, which has been instrumental in persuading the French government to destroy its stockpile (they estimate French law enforcement authorities are holding upwards of 15 tonnes) told FRANCE 24 that destroying confiscated ivory was the only way to ensure that the contraband was permanently removed from the market.
“Destroying the ivory, rather than selling it or keeping it, sends a strong message to the poachers and traffickers that the illegal trade in ivory is totally unacceptable,” association spokeswoman Miriam Potter told FRANCE 24.
“When cocaine is confiscated by customs, it is destroyed,” she added. “Ivory should be treated in exactly the same way. Just like drugs, the money goes into the hands of terrorists and international organised crime.”
Sebastien Tiran, second in command of the customs unit at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, said his officers were as hard on ivory traffickers as on drug smugglers.
"Zero tolerance" on ivory in France
“Most of the ivory we intercept in France comes through this airport,” he told FRANCE 24. “We seize around a tonne a year, and tourists coming back from Africa with engraved tusks are treated exactly the same as passengers caught carrying drugs. We have a zero tolerance policy.”
Thursday's stockpile in Paris consisted of 2.3 tonnes, including some 700 individual tusks, both unadorned and engraved, as well as 15,357 ivory ornaments including bracelets, necklaces and sculptures.
France on Thursday became the latest country to destroy confiscated ivory after China, which crushed a six-tonne pile in January, and the destruction of a similar stockpile by the United States last November.
The Philippines destroyed five tonnes of tusks in June last year, while Gabon burned 4.8 tonnes in 2012 and Kenya set fire to a pile of similar weight in 2011.
Last month, Hong Kong said it would incinerate 28 tonnes within the next two years.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said such projects should only be undertaken after a full and independent audit of the stock to prevent "lost" contraband finding its way back onto the market.
Between 1989 and 2011, the biggest seizures of illegal ivory were in China, with more than 33,000 tonnes taken according to ivory monitoring group Traffic, and 17,000 tonnes in Hong Kong.
The lorry containing the two tonnes of confiscated ivory was padlocked. After a brief struggle with the keys, officers from the environment and hunting division of the French police resorted to using an electric saw to open it up. (Photos: Tony Todd)
The ivory being destroyed in the shadow of the Eiffel tower was worth around one million euros, according to the French ministry of ecology and sustainable development. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
The tusks were confiscated by customs officers, mostly at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. Most was discovered in freight, while much was confiscated from tourists returning from Africa. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
Sebastian Tiran, second in command of customs at Charles de Gaulle Airport, said his officers considered trafficking illicit ivory as serious as drug smuggling. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
Members of French environmental association Robin des Bois (Robin Hood) attended wearing elephant masks. The organisation has been instrumental in persuading the government to destroy its stockpiles of confiscated ivory. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
A member of France’s Environment and Hunting Police holds a piece of sculpted ivory that was confiscated from a tourist returning from Africa. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
Two French customs officers with an elephant tusk. Together with the environment and hunting police, they formed a human chain to take the ivory to the conveyor belt which fed the crushing machine. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
A customs officer places a tusk on the conveyor belt. It is the first time in Europe that illicit ivory has been publicly destroyed. France hopes it will send a strong message to ivory smugglers. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
The crusher mashed the tusks into ever smaller pieces. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
The end of the line for the illicit ivory, which will be sent on to be incinerated. ©FRANCE24/Tony Todd
Date created : 2014-02-06