By Mitch Petrie - Special to StarTribune.com
This afternoon a swarm of international news media will descend on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, Colo. The draw; The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will ceremoniously crush the stockpile of confiscated ivory from over two decades of wildlife trafficking.
Mitch Petrie holds an Elephant Tusk from the US Stockpile of Ivory
This Department of Interior agency stores over 2,000,000 confiscated artifacts being held as part of criminal cases or in many cases, used for educational and training purposes for USFWS inspectors and agents.
Confiscated Bengal Tigers, Leopards and other large Cats at the USFWS Repository in Denver, CO.
The US is the number two consumer of animal parts, behind China, and there is a small but effective team in place to fight the illegal trafficking of animals. According to a USFWS fact sheet, "Destroying this ivory tells criminals who engage in poaching and trafficking that the United States will take all available measures to disrupt and prosecute those who prey on and profit from the deaths of these magnificent animals,".
Despite international efforts to prevent the import of ivory and quell demand, elephant poaching is rampant and on the rise. Even more shocking than the large piles of ivory are the quantity and variety of other confiscated items. There were rows and rows of alligator and crocodile leather products (boots and bags), finished manufactured products that contain bear gall bladder powder or tiger parts. Dozens of life-size mounts including Tigers, Asian Bighorn Sheep, Rhinos and dozens of smaller cats including Snow Leopards and Bobcats.
Bags Filled with Black Bear Claws; 3400+ in the Bottom Bag.
Event organizers are quick to point out that this has nothing to do with lawful hunting. The perpetrators of these crimes are more often than not tied to organized crime in third-world countries. Federal Law enforcement efforts are focused on targeting major poaching networks. They also work with other federal agencies state game wardens to share intelligence, and disrupt domestic sourcing of wildlife parts.
Illegally Imported Bear Rugs, Jewelry and Parts Fill the Shelves.
Montana Game Warden Chief Jim Kropp is in attendance to represent his state and their support of anti-trafficking efforts. Kropp said "Commercialized poachers who disregard wildlife laws are stealing public resources and recreational opportunities for law-abiding citizens. State and Federal Law Enforcement are committed to work together to bring to justice, those who would put financial gain in front of wildlife stewardship in America."
Hand-Carved Ivory to be Destroyed Today. Investigators see and increase in small tusks being due to reduced poaching-reduced herd sizes of African Elephants.
Event organizers hope this media event generates awareness in the US and around the world to reduce wildlife trafficking promote conservation of iconic species.
To follow the day's events, follow #ivorycrush on Twitter.