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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – U.S. officials on Thursday destroyed more than 6 tons of confiscated ivory tusks, carvings and jewelry — the bulk of the U.S. "blood ivory" stockpile — and urged other nations to follow suit to fight a $10 billion global trade that slaughters tens of thousands of elephants each year.
Thousands of ivory items accumulated over the past 25 years were piled into a large pyramid-shaped mound, then dumped into a steel rock crusher that pulverized it all into dust and tiny chips at the National Wildlife Property Repository just north of Denver.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will donate the particles to a yet-to-be-determined museum for display.
"These stockpiles of ivory fuel the demand. We need to crush the stores of ivory worldwide," said agency director Dan Ashe. He said keeping stockpiles intact can feed consumer demand for illegal souvenirs and trinkets taken from slain elephants.
Before the crush, Fish and Wildlife officials showed off thousands of confiscated ivory tusks, statues, ceremonial bowls, masks and ornaments — a collection they said represented the killing of more than 2,000 adult elephants.
The items were seized from smugglers, traders and tourists at U.S. ports of entry after a global ban on the ivory trade took effect in 1989.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a $1 million reward Wednesday for information leading to the dismantling of a Laos-based criminal syndicate, the Xaysavang Network, that Kerry said poaches elephants for ivory.
That group and others poach to fund narcotics, arms and human trafficking, the State Department said in a statement.
The message from Thursday's crush likely will reach consumers more than the faraway poachers and smugglers. Elephant poaching is at an all-time high, thanks in large part to U.S. demand and growing demand in Asia.
The British-based Born Free Foundation estimates poachers killed 32,000 elephants last year. It says black-market ivory sells for around $1,300 per pound.
Most elephants are killed in Africa, where there are about 300,000 African elephants left. There are an estimated 50,000 Asian elephants found from India to Vietnam.
The ivory being destroyed didn't include items legally imported or acquired before the 1989 global ban.