New York City's Diamond District received a wake-up call on Thursday following the news that two jewelers and their stores pleaded guilty to marketing what prosecutors said was more than $2 million worth of jewelry and other gifts made from Asian and African elephant ivory tusks. The initial arrests -- which took place earlier this year -- resulted in one of the largest seizures of illicit ivory sold in New York.
Sadly, this story is far from an isolated incident. Rather, it is part of a growing and troubling trend that is taking place around the world: the burgeoning trade in illegal ivory.
A ban on the commercial trade in ivory was put into place globally in 1989, yet just last week, federal authorities reported that seven ivory tusks (along with several other items from endangered species) were seized at Los Angeles International Airport. Earlier this year, Sri Lankan authorities seized around 350 illegal elephant tusks weighing nearly 1.5 tons, marking the single biggest ivory haul in the island nation's history.
In 2011 alone, an astounding 5,259 elephant tusks -- totaling more than 23 tons -- were seized worldwide, representing the lives of at least 2,629 dead elephants.
This much is clear: Elephants and other endangered wildlife are being killed at an alarming rate by poachers looking to fill consumer demand. Poachers must stop benefiting from this illicit trade and consumers must stop the demand.
But there are positive developments as well -- take eBay for example. A 2008 IFAW investigation entitled Killing with Keystrokes uncovered nearly 4,000 elephant ivory listings online, with most of the sales taking place on eBay's U.S. site. Recognizing the problem, eBay subsequently took the voluntary measure to ban the sale of ivory on its sites worldwide, and since then, sales of ivory on eBay across the globe have dropped precipitously.
From eBay to Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who prosecuted the recent case in New York, those making efforts to help stomp out the ivory trade should be recognized and applauded.
We must all work together before it's too late. Diamonds may be forever, but elephants won't be without our help.