• DENR destroys 5 tons of smuggled elephant tusks

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    A steamroller and a backhoe on Friday crushed more than five tons of confiscated elephant tusks, reaffirming the Philippines’ commitment to destroy massive stockpiles of ivory to stop its trafficking.

    In a ceremony at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the decision to crush the tusks “is a strong statement to the rest of the world that the Philippines is serious, and will not tolerate illegal wildlife trade.”

    The country adheres to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), an international treaty developed in 1973 to regulate commercial trade in certain wildlife species, including the critically endangered elephants.

    At a conference of parties last March, CITES named the Philippines as one of the eight countries of priority concern with regard to illegal ivory trade, particularly its role as a trade route and transit country for elephant tusks.

    The others are Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, which are considered as major sources of contraband ivory; China and Thailand as major destinations; and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam as trade routes and transit countries.

    The destroyed ivory was smuggled into the country in eight separate shipments between 1996 and 2009. It was turned over by the National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs, and DENR-National Capital Region to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

    The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has placed the value of the ivory at $10 million or P420 million.

    Despite the high price of raw ivory in the black market, Paje said the government is committed to destroy them as strong indignation for the killing of hundreds of elephants by poachers who were after their precious tusks.

    Around 25,000 elephants are being killed annually for their ivory.

    “The Philippines will not be a party to the massacre and we refuse to be conduit to this cycle of killing,” Paje said.

    He assured the international community that Manila’s fight against the illegal ivory trade will not stop with the destruction of illegal ivory stock, saying that “it was only the beginning of an intensified effort to curb wildlife poaching.”

    Paje said his department has organized the Philippine Operations Group on Ivory (POGI) to ensure that ivory smuggling into the country is properly investigated.

    WWF-Philippines Communications Manager Gregg Yan lauded the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the strong and symbolic move, saying that the public destruction of seized ivory sends a bold message to traders “that the Philippines shall no longer tolerate the trade in ivory or any other illegal wildlife products.”

    “Remember that when the buying stops, the killing will too,” Yan said, echoing a slogan used by wildlife conservationists.

    In 2007, TRAFFIC drew world governments’ attention to the leakage of ivory from government-held stockpiles in the Philippines, through a presentation to the CITES of the results of an analysis of global ivory seizure records contained in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).

    ETIS is the world’s foremost database of elephant product seizures, providing insights into all aspects of the illicit ivory trade.

    JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ

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