Philippines Destroys Ivory Stockpile

Today, the Philippines joined the list of countries to have destroyed a large quantity of ivory, forever putting it out of reach of the illegal trade and sending a clear message to those who seek to profit from the death of the iconic African elephant.The entire 5 tonnes reportedly in the government stockpile were crushed and burnt, except for some pieces earmarked for return to Kenya and others which will be retained for training, enforcement and education purposes.

The Philippines should have had much more than 5 tonnes in their stockpile – in 2005 customs agents seized almost 7 tonnes, but following an audit it transpired that almost 5.5 tonnes of this had mysteriously gone ‘missing’ from their stores. Another 4.9 tonnes were seized in 2009, and while this ivory was in the wildlife department’s care, 1.5 tonnes of tusks reportedly disappeared and were replaced with plastic replicas.

As well as being one of the more significant ivory 'consuming' countries, noted for its large domestic market and carving industry, the Philippines is recognised as one of the four main transit points for illicit ivory in Asia.

The Philippines was the subject of a National Geographic story last year, which focussed on the country’s domestic demand for the use of ivory as religious icons known as santos, implicating senior members of government and the Catholic Church. The author, Bryan Christie, will be speaking at Friday's event. Following on from this expose, in March 2013, CITES agreed that the Philippines was sufficiently implicated in the illicit ivory trade to be included on the list of 8 countries required to submit a National Ivory Action Plan to CITES, outlining measures it would take to control the trade within its borders.

Of course, only time will tell whether today's high profile event is simply a publicity stunt intended to deflect recent criticism or whether this represents a new direction in the country's approach to the illegal trade and its profiteers. Without the necessary measures in place to clamp down on reported leakages of seized ivory, today’s s event risks being interpreted as a hollow gesture.  Nevertheless, this action can certainly be regarded as historic:  the Philippines is now the first 'consumer' country to destroy a large volume of ivory. One hopes that the other large consumer and transit countries in the region (particularly China) will take note, and join the Philippines in beginning to seriously address their role in the poaching epidemic currently wiping out Africa's once numerous elephant herds.

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