News Column

EDITORIAL: The ethical thing

August 14, 2014

News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

Aug. 14--Incinerating the 20 pounds of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns in storage at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro -- and worth $1 million on the black market -- seems like a good idea to director David Jones, and to us.

While the stockpile mostly comes from the remains of animals that once lived at the zoo, getting rid of it in such fashion would also be the longtime keeper's symbolic jab against animal poaching. The illegal and unethical act of killing animals for their parts has so dramatically reduced the herds of elephants and rhinos in Africa that the population might be a human generation from extinction.

Problem is, it's not up to Jones, who has spent decades in the international zoo world. The N.C. zoological park is a state attraction and there are layers of complication for destroying state property -- even that with no legal value. Any other zoo might simply go to its board of directors to get the OK, but the N.C. Zoo is one of two in the country that are state-owned.

The State Bureau of Investigation, for example, has to be satisfied there's no criminal activity covered up by the destruction of state property. State lawyers are making sure destroying it doesn't violate any state law. Even the feds have gotten involved. Jones wanted to get rid of the stock Tuesday, on what was designated as World Elephant Day 2014. Rhino horns are routinely clipped, for example, to keep the animals from goring each other. The collection also includes a donated set of tusks.

Overseas, poachers kill -- law enforcement, each other, the animals -- for the items.

Importing virtually all ivory has been banned under a federal law designed to reduce slaughter of endangered elephants. The population has been reduced by about 90 percent just in the last three decades.

That hasn't slowed the number of elephants and rhinos being lost to criminal enterprise. The pieces are traded for drugs and guns and fuel terrorist activities. Then there's the seemingly insatiable demand for ivory in China and Vietnam, where it is often handcrafted into fixtures that end up with collectors in the United States.

The rhino horns are ground and used for medicinal purposes, mostly in Asian cultures. But the value in curing anything has been proven to be a myth.

The leaders of African countries were at the White House recently asking the Obama administration, among other things, for help. Elephant poaching is at its highest level in decades, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is working to ban the commercial ivory trade in the country.

"It's reached a level where we will see extinction within one human generation," said Jones, who has visited a site where poachers left the remains of about 70 elephants.

The pieces have very little educational value for the zoo because plastic models can be used. Jones had planned to place the pieces in an incinerator used to cremate animals.

Hanging onto the stockpile is something of a liability. Although there have not been many thefts in the United States, there have been at least 60 reports of ivory stolen from European museums and private collections. But stranger stories make newspaper headlines, including the $10,000 dinosaur replica stolen from a downtown Raleigh museum.

For the time being, the bounty remains out of the public's view in an undisclosed location to prevent theft .

Ultimately , it should be destroyed to ensure it's never stolen and sold overseas.


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Source: News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

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