The Singapore Ivory Crush – some questions answered


On Monday 13 June 2016 the Singapore authorities and a group of other officials and interested NGOs gathered for a sombre occasion –  Singapore’s first ever destruction of confiscated illegal ivory.  The 7.9 tonnes of ivory earmarked for crushing would have been worth S$13 million on the black market, thanks to a surge in demand for ivory from an increasingly wealthy Asia,

Ivory placed in rock crusher, Singapore.

Not a simple task. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) began by feeding the 7.9 tonnes of ivory into a rock crusher, in an attempt to reduce it to a kind of rubble, which would then be incinerated and taken to its final resting place at the landfill site on the nearby island of  Pulau Semakau .

Who else is destroying ivory?

Singapore is the latest in a line of Asian countries to publicly destroy illegal ivory stockpiles, following China, Thailand and Malaysia. It also follows the biggest ever ivory burn which took place in Kenya in April 2016, where over 100 tonnes of ivory were burned in Nairobi National Park. An indication of the astonishing extent of the amount of illegal ivory traded. And remember this only represents the ivory from traffickers who were caught. 

One of 12 pyres, largest ivory burn in history, Kenya.
One of 12 pyres, largest ivory burn in history, Kenya.

Does destroying ivory drive up the price?

There have been an increasing number of ivory destruction events but little is known about the way the market or consumers react to these. Some people suggest they can drive up the price by reducing supply. But in theory confiscated ivory can never be resold so shouldn’t have an effect on price. In places like Singapore, where security is tight, the risk of ivory stockpiles leaking back onto the black market are slim. But this is not true of all countries. WWF-Singapore and TRAFFIC urge governments conducting ivory destruction events to carry out research into the effects of these burns and crushes.

How many elephants?

As a rough guide, for every tonne of ivory 100 elephants lost their lives. So the ivory crush in Singapore marks the sad end for around 800 African elephants. Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, African elephants are still being poached in large numbers. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed every year for their ivory tusks. The main market for illegal ivory is Asia, particularly China, where trinket and carvings make from ivory are an increasingly popular status symbol.

Is illegal ivory a big problem for Singapore?

Research shows that ivory is not in big demand in Singapore. But because of the country’s geographical position and slick transport systems it has become a key transit point for ivory smugglers. From here they can  distribute ivory from Africa across many countries in Asia. From 2013 to 2015, Singapore reported five ivory seizures, accounting to more than seven tonnes of illegal ivory. In addition, it has been implicated in 16 other shipments amounting to 4.1 tonnes of ivory, that was slated for Singapore, or had passed through its ports and been seized elsewhere. Singapore also plays a key role as a transit hub of choice for many large shipments of ivory moving on to Viet Nam and China. 

So what happens next?

The ivory crush sends out a strong symbolic message that Singapore will not tolerate the transit of smuggled ivory through its transport systems. But this gesture needs be backed up with an effective plan if the illegal wildlife trade is to be stamped out for good.

According to the wildlife monitoring experts at TRAFFIC,  the Singapore authorities need a strict law enforcement action plan to tackle the usage of both its sea and airports for this illegal transit trade. Apart from intelligence gathering, TRAFFIC suggests the plan must include risk profiling of containers, traffickers and trade routes from or to high-risk destinations as well as the use of sniffer dogs and controlled deliveries to track ivory shipments.

©Martin Harvey/WWF
©Martin Harvey/WWF

Read more about the ivory trade here

Read more about the threat to African elephants here

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