Au Revoir: France Crushes its Ivory

French Customs employees protect themselves from fragments as about 698 elephant tusks are unloaded before being crushed into dust at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (Photograph by Remy de la Mauviniere)

France has now joined a growing number of other countries—including the United States and China—in destroying its stockpile of ivory.

More than three tons of ivory was pulverized at Champs de Mar at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The ivory stash was worth more than one million dollars, and was comprised of 698 individual elephant tusks and nearly 15,000 carved items, including jewelry and sculptures. Most had been seized at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport.

Sebastien Tiran, a customs agent at the airport, says that ivory, above all other contraband, has remained an ever present item coming in and out of Charles de Gaulle. “Customs seizures can vary from one year to the other—there is a lot of evolution in it—but one thing doesn’t change: That’s the consumer appetite for ivory.” (Related: “Blood Ivory“)

In November 2013 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crushed six tons of seized ivory at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside Denver, Colorado. (See video: “U.S. Crushes Six Tons of Ivory to Save Elephants“) China followed suit, destroying 6.2 tons of ivory this January. Gabon, Kenya, and the Philippines have also held ivory destruction events. Hong Kong might incinerate its massive stockpile in the next two years.

France Takes the Lead

France is the first European nation to crush its ivory since the 1989 global ivory ban. A number of NGOs attended the event, including WWF and IFAW (The International Fund for Animal Welfare).

Celine Sissler-Bienvenu, IFAW’s France and Francophone country director, who recently returned from a successful and tragic elephant relocation project in Cote d’Ivoire, has been advising the French government at the “presidential levels” about ivory trafficking.

“The signal of the ivory crush is a strong signal,” she says. “We were very pleased that France made the decision [to do this] because it shows its commitment to fighting the ivory trade.”

Sissler-Bienvenu notes that the French government is taking other measures to fight wildlife crime: “Before, the penalty for being arrested with a product of a protected animal was 15,000 Euros. Now it is 150,000 Euros and two years of jail. This is good because now that these penalties are increased, the magistrate will be more interested in prosecution.” (Related: “Togo Makes Second Record Ivory Seizure“)

Furthermore, she says, France will now immediately destroy all seized ivory rather than stockpiling it.

Only a Starting Point

Julien Marchais, founder of the French NGO Des Elephants & des Hommes, an organization that focuses on human-elephant coexistence in a number of African countries, including Burkina Faso and Cameroon, attended the crush beneath the Eiffel Tower.

While Marchais praises the French government’s action, he says it’s only “a starting point towards more ambitious, long-term solutions beyond these crushes. Those living with elephants,” he says, “are much more interested to see long-term solutions for a positive human-elephant coexistence, allying socio-economic development and environmental preservation.”

But, Marchais says, the crush was “a positive moment,” with the conservation community “largely present and happy—there was a feeling of consensus.”

And yet, he adds, “we were fully aware that this pile of ivory came sadly from the poaching of hundreds of magnificent and sensitive elephants.”



Meet the Author
Christina Russo is a freelance journalist. For nearly 15 years, she has worked as a producer for a number of public radio programs, including NPR/WBUR’s "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. Christina also freelances for Yale Environment 360, where her written work focuses mainly on wildlife conservation issues. She is the co-producer, with WBUR, of the nationally syndicated documentary on American zoos, From Cages to Conservation. She has written numerous articles about animals, including a story about caring for donkeys in Ethiopia; a veterinarian saving horses in Sonoma County, CA; an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand; and the work of pre-eminent whale biologist Roger Payne for her hometown newspaper, The Gloucester Daily Times.