The real world of course always makes things more complicated. Recent, high profile destruction of ivory stockpiles (China, U.S., Philippines) have prompted pledges of more public acts of ivory demolition (France, Hong Kong, U.K.). Some of the ivory is burnt in ceremonial bonfires; some is crushed and will be turned into monuments that protest poaching. If the majority of consumers do not realize that elephants must die in order for an ivory trinket to be produced, then dramatic media events such as these should help educate the consuming public. In a global media environment filled with the extreme of just about everything, issuing a press release can’t compete with media-genic sacrifices. We need an abundance of dynamic, high profile, attention-grabbing efforts to convince people not to buy ivory.
Having said that, as I watch the various parties schedule their ivory stockpile destruction events, I wonder about the lasting efficacy of this destruction. The first thing that bothers me is the authenticity of the actions. You can still buy ivory legally in all these countries. Most stockpiles are comprised of illegal ivory that has been confiscated. Destroying it is an easier decision than reconciling what to do with a product you cannot monetize because ivory harvested after 1989 is illegal, even though it really isn’t possible to verify all ivory legally sold in your market was obtained pre-1989. No one can figure that one out so the decision is made to destroy it and get some good press but put off dealing with the more difficult issue of should ivory be legal at all.
If you look at the ivory economy, there are three general categories of ivory in trade: government stockpiles, privately owned/held ivory objects, and ivory “in play,” or somewhere in the supply chain between being harvested and being sold to the end consumer. I’ve expressed my thoughts about government stockpiles. I do not worry about ivory owned by individuals and collections. It’s the ivory in the pipeline, or still “for sale,” that is unresolved. If all poaching ceased today, how should we deal with the ivory in the pipeline? Should it all be confiscated and destroyed? Or is there some greater good that it can achieve? The European Union is calling upon its member states to pass moriatoria on ivory sales until elephant poaching is no longer a problem. If all European countries adopt such a law, what then should they do with the illegal ivory they will confiscate? In the long term, is there a viable, legal market for ivory objects that can fund conservation programs?
The idealist in me would love to see all confiscated ivory go to a secure global ivory bank, where it is kept as a silent monument to all the dead elephants. People could donate ivory objects it to the bank, receiving an audited tax credit as a charitable donation. Limited sales of items to national museums only from the bank could fund a global communications program to convince consumers not to buy any more ivory. Then, when the killing stops and the crime rings have moved onto another marketplace, perhaps we can find a “greater good use” of all that ivory. But those are the ruminations of my idealistic side.
In the real world, I think we should keep educating consumers that ivory is for elephants — people don’t have a clue how to handle it responsibly.