(ELEPHANTS/IVORY TRADE) SRI LANKA — On Tuesday, under the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena, officials crushed more than 300 elephant tusks–the equivalent of 1.5 tons of ivory.

This move makes Sri Lanka the first South Asian country to publicly destroy ivory obtained by elephant poachers, and sends a powerful message against elephant poaching as Sri Lanka is a transit hub for the illegal ivory trade.

Joining nations like Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Philippines, Sri Lanka is now the 16th country in the world to destroy elephant tusks to prevent further trading in the black market.

Read on for more on Sri Lanka’s role in the illicit ivory trade, and learn how such acts of intolerance for poaching can help save species from extinction. — Global Animal

Tusks on Tuesday in Colombo as Sri Lanka became the first South Asian country to publicly destroy seized ivory. Photo Credit: Eranga Jayawardena via Associated Press
Sri Lanka became the first South Asian country to publicly destroy seized ivory on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Eranga Jayawardena via Associated Press

New York Times, Dharisha Bastians

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A group of saffron-robed monks chanted as officials crushed more than 300 elephant tusks in a seaside ceremony on Tuesday, as the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena sought to differentiate itself from its predecessor by sending a powerful message of intolerance for elephant poaching.

Sri Lanka is the first South Asian nation to publicly destroy ivory obtained through elephant poaching and the 16th country in the world to destroy confiscated elephant tusks so that they cannot be traded in the black market.

The previous Sri Lankan government, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, had planned to distribute the tusks to Buddhist temples around the island, including the Sacred Temple of the Tooth, the country’s most revered. That spurred an outcry from Sri Lankan environmentalists and international wildlife agencies, who argued that the ivory would later be traded.

Ivory horns are smuggled out of West and Central Africa for markets in Asia and Europe. Photo credit: thezimbabwean.co.uk
Ivory horns are smuggled out of West and Central Africa for markets in Asia and Europe. Photo credit: thezimbabwean.co.uk

The crushed ivory weighed 1.5 tons, far less than some caches that have been destroyed. But the action was significant because Sri Lanka is a transit hub for trading in illegal ivory, which is popular in Asia as a symbol of prosperity and for use in Buddhist religious ceremonies. More than 100 tons of poached ivory have been destroyed since 1989, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Vidya Abhayagunawardena, an environmentalist who helped coordinate the event for the Sri Lankan Wildlife Ministry, said destroying the ivory sent a strong message to the Asian region, where the valuable tusks are perceived as symbols of wealth and class, and are used to create religious and cultural objects that continue to drive the illegal trade.

The biggest demand is from several fast-growing economies in Asia, including Thailand and China, the world’s largest consumer of ivory. The United Nations Environment Program says that surveys have documented a tripling of poaching and seizures of illegal ivory headed for Asia since 2007. In central and western Africa, the killing of elephants far exceeds their natural population replacement rate, the group says.

Continue reading the full New York Times article, here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/27/sri-lanka-destroys-illegal-elephant-tusks

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