New capital of the U.S. ivory trade: Washington, D.C.?

Ivory crush

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee assembles confiscated ivory tusks on a tower for display before crushing. (© Ivy Allen/USFWS)

The seat of power in the United States appears to be the new hub of the country’s ivory trade, according to a report released Wednesday.

Washington, D.C., had three times more ivory items for sale than 10 years earlier, the report found, and more than any of the six major U.S. cities and six U.S. states surveyed.

The report, published this week by TRAFFIC, a non-profit that monitors the wildlife trade, offers a snapshot of the ivory trade in the U.S. based on items for sale found in ads and shops over a seven-week period — and provides further evidence that recent clampdowns have yet to choke off the illicit trade for good. In fact, crackdowns in California and New York caused their ivory markets to plunge, according to the report. Unfortunately, it appears to have merely shifted the problem elsewhere.

“Limiting ivory trafficking at the state level is a really important step towards closing the illicit U.S. market entirely,” Peter LaFontaine of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a collaborator on the new report, told National Geographic. “[But] we want to avoid the ‘whack-a-mole’ scenario where ivory dealers simply pack up and move across a state border.”

A surge in demand for ivory in recent years has fueled a poaching crisis: Every 15 minutes, an African elephant is killed for its tusks. This has put some elephant populations at grave risk, with some 60 percent of Africa’s forest-dwelling elephants wiped out since 2002 alone. Poaching, in turn, has helped to fuel a US$ 8 billion trade that funds organized crime and terrorist networks around the world — a growing threat to national and global security.

Click on the links below to learn more — and find out what you can do to help end wildlife trafficking before it’s too late.

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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