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What Uganda's Leaky Stockpile Of Banned Ivory Means For Elephants

A year ago, I proudly attended the U.S. ivory crush in Colorado, a coordinated demolition of nearly six tons of seized elephant ivory, symbolizing the U.S.'s intolerance for elephant poaching and sending a message to the world that ivory should be permanently removed from any possible commercial use. The ivory crush was an emotional event. It evoked sadness for the massacred elephants, frustration with the continuing scourge of violent poaching, and encouragement that our nation is taking concerted action and leadership.

There was much debate surrounding the ivory "crush," a debate that was echoed in similar destructions in Africa, Asia and Europe, as some felt that the ivory should not be destroyed. They argued that it was pointless: ivory was already confiscated and, in some areas, that seized, stockpiled ivory should be sold to generate revenue for wildlife conservation efforts.

Today, only one year later, I read a report indicating that over a ton of seized elephant ivory-worth approximately 1.1 million U.S. dollars-has just been stolen from a "secure" government armory in Uganda. Corrupt officials are thought to be the culprits, stealing the confiscated ivory from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and selling the tusks. An investigation is underway to determine the details.

But regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the damage has been done. This incident demonstrates that stockpiles of ivory are vulnerable to theft. This theft demonstrates that officials who oversee quantities of ivory cannot necessarily be trusted; and this breach of trust demonstrates that confiscated ivory cannot be safely held in stockpiles indefinitely. All this in addition to the simple fact that, as long as stockpiled ivory remains available, there also remains the perception that ivory may once again be sold. This inspires elephant poachers and ivory profiteers to ply their deadly and destructive trade.

Ivory is worth an astounding amount of money, more by weight than gold or cocaine. Where you and I see a regrettable hoard of slaughtered elephants' body parts, the ivory trafficker sees dollar signs.

Let me make this clear: ivory stockpiles should be destroyed. Remove the ivory, and remove the risk of its re-entrance into the marketplace entirely. Keep the ivory, and keep alive the threat of theft and resale that fuels the vicious ivory trade.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,