This week Belgium took a symbolic stand for elephants by crushing its entire stockpile of confiscated ivory in a move that condemns poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife.
The event was hosted by Belgian Vice Prime Minister Laurette Onkelinx, who was joined by members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), who helped organize the event, and officials from European and African countries, including elephant range states.
Belgium’s crush followed similar events held in the U.S., France, China and the UK and destroyed 1.5 tons of ivory that had been seized over the past 25 years, sending a strong message to the world that the trade in ivory has to stop. Conservationists are applauding the move in part because Belgium is believed to be a key transit point for the illegal trade between Africa and Asia and because it is home to the European Union’s headquarters.
IFAW’s President and CEO, Azzedine Downes, believes Belgium’s crush will “make ripples throughout Europe.”
While destroying stockpiles of ivory won’t stop poaching, the events send a message that ivory has no value. It isn’t a symbol of affluence, but of selfishness, death and corruption that no one should want. As IFAW points out, these events also keep the issue in the public eye and help raise awareness about the plight of elephants who continue to be slaughtered by the thousands simply for their tusks.
IFAW estimates that up to 50,000 elephants are killed every year, which breaks down to 100 elephants dying each day, or one dying every 15 minutes. By some estimates, if drastic actions aren’t taken these amazing animals could disappear in a mere 10 years.
Fortunately for elephants, leaders are taking this issue seriously and continue to come together to strengthen efforts to fight wildlife trafficking.
Belgium’s crush came just in time for the Conference on the EU Approach Against Wildlife Trafficking, which was held in Brussels this week, ending a public consultation launched in February that asked how the EU can stop wildlife trafficking.
The meeting hosted 170 representatives with various backgrounds who discussed different ways EU member states can help fight the illegal trade in ivory and combat organized wildlife crime. According to a press release, this marks the first time representatives from all parts of government came together with practitioners from the entire enforcement chain, which shows the need for more coordinated efforts to crack down on poachers and traffickers.
Representatives stressed the need for improving enforcement of existing laws and the potential for taking diplomatic actions against countries that are affected by wildlife trafficking, in addition to talking about how to maximize international cooperation to investigate and take action against organized criminal networks.
The EU Commission will examine the input and announce changes it plans to make on the issue.
Meanwhile, in more good news for elephants from the states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned sport hunters from importing trophies from elephants killed in Zimbabwe and Tanzania at least for the rest of the year, citing declining populations and uncontrolled poaching as motives.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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