Well, just in time for the holiday, the United Kingdom has given the world a gift, renewing hope that we can save elephants from extinction. The UK has enacted a ban on the sale of ivory, following in the footsteps of China and the United States, and renewing a path of world leadership, which the European Union will hopefully be next to follow.
I was U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director from 2011-2017. Early in my tenure as Director, a group of employees came to me with the idea that we should ban domestic sale of ivory in the U.S. They argued that it would provide a key ingredient in elephant conservation and one for which the U.S. has been known historically – leadership. They proposed that we kick off the effort by holding a public event to destroy the entire U.S. stockpile of confiscated ivory, which at that point stood at 6 tons. In November 2013 we crushed that ivory at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, in Denver, CO. We were joined by the Wildlife Conservation Society and 127 AZA member facilities through the “96 Elephants” campaign, providing additional leadership, and an example of public support that was crucial fuel. In 2015, again with an assist from WCS and the Bronx and Central Park Zoos, we crushed another 2 tons right in the middle of Times Square. We grabbed the world’s attention.
A year later, our regulation banning U.S. ivory sales went into effect. It wasn’t easy, but I kept in mind the words of former Secretary of State, Madeline Albright – “If there’s nobody in your way, you’re not going anywhere.”
With a little more help from friends in the State Department, like former Under Secretary Kathy Novelli, we applied diplomacy with China, and they pledged to follow our lead. In fact, they did, and bang-bang, the world’s two largest ivory consuming nations had banned the trade. What seemed impossible five years earlier, had simply been improbable.
Now, it’s wonderful to see another world leader taking a step to stop the trade in ivory, and show leadership.
We’re racing against the clock of extinction, still losing as many as 96 elephants every day. But the news from the UK is warming and hopeful.
I’ve now joined the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and found new energy in SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction, and our recent acquisition of the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance. The AZA community is positioned to add its voice, influence, and leadership.
Let’s make a resolution for 2019. Let’s get our friends in the EU to follow suit. Let’s stop the trade in ivory, so the killing of elephants will stop too!