MANILA, Philippines—Saving a few elephant tusks from destruction for educational and research purposes is OK, but five tons of the stuff is just too much.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday rejected a congressman’s suggestion that the P420-million worth of confiscated ivory tusks it intended to destroy on Friday be preserved and donated to schools, museums and research facilities for educational purposes.
Director Theresa Mundita Lim of the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau said the agency actually intended to preserve 30 samples of ivory for research, education and enforcement purposes even before Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe made his suggestion.
On Monday, Batocabe issued a statement saying that saving the tusks would give students and the public an opportunity to study the rare items up close. “They would otherwise not likely get a chance to see an ivory tusk up close, much less an elephant,” he had said.
But Lim said that preserving all five tons of the ivory would be expensive, considering that upkeep and security for the items costs her agency P2 million a year. Keeping a few samples should be enough, she said.
Lim said some of the 30 samples would go to the National Museum, Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and government agencies tasked with enforcing the laws against the illegal wildlife trade.
The DENR announced on Sunday it would destroy on June 21 around five tons of confiscated elephant tusks estimated to be worth $10 million, or roughly P420 million.
At first it planned to burn some of the tusks in a symbolic ceremony and crush the rest with a steamroller, until an appeal from clean air advocates prompted it to drop the burning plan and just pulverize the ivory.
Where’s the rest?
Lim said the five tons of ivory were part of illegal shipments into the country seized by the Bureau of Customs and other enforcement agencies between 1996 and 2009.
Based on records, Lim said 13 tons of ivory had entered the country in that period but only five tons were turned over to the DENR. Asked where the other eight tons might have gone, Lim said, “Ask them,” referring to the confiscating agencies.
Lim said the Philippines had been identified along with Hong Kong, Malaysia and Vietnam as trade routes in the trafficking in ivory from African countries.
Thus, she said, it was important that the Philippines send a strong message to the international community that it was not condoning the “blood ivory” trade.
Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, to which the Philippines is a signatory, the selling of ivory is prohibited, Lim said.