News Column

NC Zoo plan to destroy ivory, rhino horn postponed

August 12, 2014

By Martha Quillin, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Aug. 12--A plan by the North Carolina Zoo to incinerate about 200 pounds of elephant ivory and rhino horn as a statement against animal poaching has been delayed while lawyers study the rules on the destruction of state property.

The zoo had planned to burn the items on Tuesday -- designated as World Elephant Day 2014 -- to draw attention to recent dramatic increases in the poaching of African elephants and rhinos.

The N.C. Zoological Park, just outside Asheboro, has accumulated a store of ivory and horn over the years, most of which were culled from elephants and rhinos that had died at the zoo. Some of the pieces of rhino horns are the sharp tips that had been trimmed from live animals to prevent them from goring one another.

Zoo Director David Jones said the park also has a set of elephant tusks it received as a gift more than 20 years ago from someone cleaning out a relative's home.

The zoo does not have the documentation to prove the tusks were taken legally, so it can't sell them. But it wouldn't even if it could, Jones said.

"Basically, the philosophy now is, we should be treating this stuff like heroin," Jones said. "If you find a load of drugs, the best way to get rid of it is just to burn it."

Wildlife experts say that more than 30,000 African elephants were slaughtered last year by poachers, of a population of 400,000. More than 1,000 of Africa's 15,000 rhinos were killed by poachers last year.

Though the animals are protected, hunters kill them to harvest tusks and horns, many of which eventually make their way to China, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, where they are valued for decorative or medicinal reasons. Collectors in the United States also fuel the illicit trade.

The criminal wholesale trade also is said to fund terrorists, who sell the items to buy weapons or trade for them directly.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is developing rules that would stop virtually all commercial trade in elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in the United States, including the commercial import of African elephant ivory.

Some African governments have destroyed their stockpiles, Jones said, either through incineration or by grinding them into dust. At least one other U.S. zoo has destroyed its pieces.

The N.C. Zoo would put the items into the incinerator it uses to cremate animal remains. If the zoo finds an educational need for ivory or rhino horn, it can use models, Jones said.

Because the items at the zoo are not sellable, they have no value, but even so are considered state property and must be disposed of according to the rules, Jones said.

Lawyers for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which oversees the park, are reviewing the statutes to make sure it's legal to burn the items.

Quillin: 919-829-8989


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Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

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