Philippine government workers used a backhoe and an incinerator yesterday to crush and burn more than five tonnes of smuggled elephant tusks worth an estimated US$10 million, in the biggest known destruction of trafficked ivory outside Africa.
The government said the destruction of the stockpile, gathered from seizures since 2009, demonstrated its commitment to fighting the illegal ivory trade.
It also eliminated any opportunity for corrupt officials to resell the ivory, which occurred in 2006 when the largest single shipment of 3.7 tonnes vanished from the inventory, according to an international network that tracks the illegal trade.
"Ivory is known to have disappeared from a number of government-held stockpiles worldwide, so it is vital that proper protocols are established," said Colman O'Criodain from the global conservation body WWF.
The US Agency for International Development and the Freeland Foundation, which tracks wildlife trafficking, said they were assisting the Philippine government in conducting DNA analysis of elephant tusks at the Centre for Conservation Biology of the University of Washington so that law enforcement agencies would have information on the origin and transit points of the smuggled ivory.
This would also help to dismantle criminal syndicates responsible for poaching in Africa.
"This not only sends a message to wildlife traffickers that the Philippine government is taking firm action against the illegal ivory trade, but also takes a stand against corruption by burning their ivory stockpile so it cannot be stolen then sold into the black market," said Steven Galster, director of the Bangkok-based Freeland Foundation.
The nation has been used as a transit route between Africa and the rest of Asia. Ivory can fetch up to US$2,000 per kilogram on the black market and more than US$50,000 for an entire tusk. The Elephant Trade Information System, which tracks the illegal trade on behalf of the 1989 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, says the Philippines is among nine countries and territories identified as being most heavily implicated in the illegal trade.
The others are Hong Kong, mainland China, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand.
The Philippines is a transit point but also is known for its carving industry producing religious sculptures and artifacts.
Last year, National Geographic magazine featured an ivory collection allegedly belonging to Catholic priest Cristobal Garcia, who was suspended last year by the Vatican because of a sex abuse case.
The Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation said it would question Garcia over the origin of the ivory icons.
Officer Sixto Comia said yesterday he had not received any reports on the result of that investigation.