Before thousands of people, the US Fish and Wildlife destroyed more than a ton of ivory Friday. It took hours for the crushing machine's engines to pulverize it all into dust. Countless little specks of ivory swirled in the air all around us, scattering like ashes in the wind. When it was all over, police trucks pulled away giant bins filled with crushed ivory bits.
It seemed like so much. And yet, compared to the amount of illegal ivory flooding the markets each year, a ton is nothing.
One ton of ivory is roughly equivalent to about 90 elephants (or 10 kilograms per elephant), based on numbers from a report by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. That's around how many elephants are slaughtered each day.
We're currently losing at least 35,000 elephants a year. In comparison to the daily destruction of living elephants on the planet, the New York ivory crush was just a tiny speck of ivory dust floating in the breeze.
"While we're sitting here at this event, about six more elephants will die. Maybe more, because they're now going after the babies as well," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in her remarks during the Times Square ivory crush.
Elephants are also losing their habitat due to unsustainable development practices sweeping Africa. Still, and ever more heartbreaking, baby elephants are routinely kidnapped from the wild in Zimbabwe for petty cash to foreign buyers.
Putting last week's historic crush into perspective only further increases the urgency of ending the ivory trade and protecting elephants both at home and abroad.
3. Ivory crushes raise awareness that elephants face extinction.
As intended, the Times Square ivory crush received great media coverage in the nation and around the world. It was fantastic publicity for the plight of elephants and the fight against the vicious wildlife trafficking industry.
As Secretary Jewell said, "We don't need trinkets, but we do need elephants."
Plus, last week's ivory crush was only one in a wave of crushes worldwide. In November 2013 the US Fish and Wildlife Service crushed 6 tons of ivory in Colorado. Since 2013 nations including Kenya, France, Hong Kong, the Republic of Gabon, the United Arab Emirates, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thailand, China, and many others have staged public events to destroy ivory stockpiles.
It's extremely promising that the world is waking up to the reality that the ivory trade is costing us the end of an invaluable species. But will it be too late?
Sadly there are still some people who don't yet understand that crushing the ivory market is the best way to protect elephants. In reality, banning ivory has been proven to drive down consumer demand and save elephants. (We've tried flooding the market with ivory once - with disastrous consequences. Never again.)
Destroying illegal ivory seized from poachers and smugglers, as in last week's ivory crush, helps make the statement that ivory trinkets are meaningless and valueless.
"I know everyone is anxious to see the crush of all the worthless items [today]," said Joseph Martins, director of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation, during the ivory crush last Friday. "The reason they're worthless is because they're not attached to an elephant."
As long as we value elephant tusks, elephants will be in danger. As Azzedine Downes, president and CEO of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, puts it: "The ivory trade anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere."
In order to pull elephants from the brink of extinction, we need to convince consumers that ivory only has value on elephants. The crush in Times Square - and all the others like it - helps us strip away the artificial value our society has placed on those tusks, one pile of dust at a time. The question is just whether we can turn the tide quickly enough.
4. The United States government is taking action to save elephants -but it isn't enough.