In all, 1.7 tonnes of tusks, figurines and trinkets were destroyed this morning on the grounds of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, just outside Brussels. As with the other ivory crushes that have taken place around the world in recent months, the public event was meant to send a message strongly deterring illegal poaching of elephant and rhino tusks, and the black market through which those tusks are sold.
The pulverized ivory from the crush will be turned into artwork that will highlight the country's efforts to protect elephants from poaching. Before being destroyed, its estimated street value was €680,000 (about $1 million).
"Worldwide momentum is building, with the Belgian government the latest to heed our call to destroy stockpiles of confiscated illegal ivory," Azzedine Downes, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said in a blog post in the lead-up to the ivory crush. Downes said that despite the relatively small size of the crush — the U.S. pulverized six tonnes, and Hong Kong has plans to destroy 28 tonnes — this event was particularly significant because Brussels is the seat of the European Union. "This Belgian crush will make ripples throughout Europe."
Indeed, as National Geographic reports, tomorrow a conference will be held in Brussels looking at what measures the EU can put in place to strengthen its approach to combating wildlife trafficking. A global ban on the international ivory trade has been in place since 1989, although there have been occasional sell-offs permitted by the UN-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Estimates vary on how many elephants are killed each year for their tusks, from around 35,000 to 50,000 — a number that's been steadily increasing. Because of poaching and other causes, World Wildlife Fund estimates there could be as few as 470,000 African elephants left in the wild — down from as many as five million in the 1930s.