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San Diego officials work to stop elephant poaching

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance officials hope that their first-ever “Toss the Tusk” event will help reduce the poaching of elephants.

The Wildlife Alliance and state and federal officials gathered outside the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Friday to help teach people about the threat posed by the illicit ivory trade.

They also encouraged people to drop off ivory that they already own, removing it from commercial markets.


By displaying the items that officials have confiscated from people trying to sell ivory and other goods related to endangered species, they hope to point out how poaching threatens elephants and other animals in the wild.

The population of African elephants has fallen from an estimated 12 million a century ago to just 415,000 in 2023.

“It is estimated that more than 100,000 elephants were lost between 2010 and 2012 alone, with illegal hunting for ivory the major driver of this decline,” said Manisa Kung, the assistant special agent in charge for the Pacific Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Federal officials say San Diego sees a high volume of illegal wildlife products because it is a border city and a major port of entry into the United States.

U.S. officials said they levied more than $11 million in fines for illegal wildlife trafficking in 2022 alone.


It is legal to own ivory products in the United States, but nearly all ivory sales in the U.S. were banned in 2014.

But California officials say that has not stopped illicit sales.

“We have had multiple cases that we’ve criminally prosecuted, and there’s still a lot more work to be done on behalf of ... protecting elephants,” said David Bess, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Ivory sales are only part of the problem. There is concern that demand for the material encourages poachers to seek out more product.

That is why the ivory dropoff can have an impact. Officials say it takes existing ivory out of circulation.

“It matters when you consider how there are these dynamics between supply and demand. And so removing some of that supply from a system of existing ivory products matters to curb overall trade,” said Kirstie Rupert, of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.

Officials say that, if they can stop the buying, they can stop the killing of elephants in the wild.

“These events help convey the powerful role that consumers can play in ending illegal wildlife trade,” said Dan Ashe, the president and chief executive officer of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “Ivory belongs to elephants.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is planning similar events outside zoos in Dallas and St. Louis this summer.