Belgium on Wednesday destroyed 1.7 tonnes of ivory seized at its borders in an effort to draw public attention to an increase in the illegal trade and the risk it poses to elephant populations.
Belgium has become a major transit hub of the ivory trade between Africa and Asia due to good flight and port connections. About half of the ivory seized in Belgium originates in its former colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Wednesday’s destruction mirrors similar initiatives by China, the United States and France to highlight the killing of up to 50,000 elephants annually by poachers seeking their tusks. Some 41.5 tonnes of ivory was confiscated worldwide last year.
“It’s the fourth largest illegal trade after drugs, human trafficking and weapons and it allows organised gangs to make money, putting at risk already threatened species and our ecosystem,” said Laurette Onkelinx, minister for animal welfare, before helping to push the ivory into a cement crusher.
With a wholesale black market value of up to $1,200 per kg, ivory has become a lucrative commodity for organised crime.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a non-governmental organisation, estimates the illegal ivory trade has doubled since 2007 and tripled since 1998 leading to a decline of African elephant numbers to around 500,000 today.
“We have 10 years left and if poaching is not stopped we could lose elephant populations,” said IFAW CEO Azzedine Downes.
IFAW said the ivory had to be destroyed because selling it would just create new markets and encourage further smuggling.The ivory destroyed on Wednesday had arrived in Belgium both in the form of complete tusks to be carved and also as finished products such as jewellery, statuettes and chopsticks.
Once crushed, the ivory will be used in art projects to raise further awareness about the illegal trade.