Poaching for ivory has ravaged populations of wild elephants and rhinos at record rates. An estimated 25,000 African elephants are killed each year and all for the coveted ivory tusks that fuel a global smuggling enterprise.

BRIAN CHRISTY: Yeah, the illegal ivory trade right now is at least a $50 million-a-year industry. And it has resulted in a bloodbath across Africa.

LYDEN: That's Brian Christy. His "Blood Ivory" article in the October 2012 issue of National Geographic drew international attention to the illicit global market for ivory. On Friday, he stood in a parking lot in Quezon City in the Philippines to witness a major symbolic step towards shutting down the illegal ivory trade.


LYDEN: The Philippines' supply of five tons of confiscated ivory wasn't just destroyed. It was smashed, crushed, first, run over by a steam roller...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LYDEN: ...which was surprisingly ineffective, so they switched to pounding it with a backhoe.


LYDEN: The Philippines is a key stopover in the ivory trade. It's a destination for smugglers unloading their illicit wares into the Asian marketplace. And Filipinos buy the ivory for religious carvings. The confiscated ivory could leak back into the black market if it merely sits in a government warehouse where it can be pilfered and resold by corrupt officials. But pulverizing it takes it out of play forever.

THERESA MUNDITA LIM: We want to send a strong message that we're against the illegal trade of ivory. These are all contraband.

LYDEN: Theresa Mundita Lim is the director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Philippines. She hopes that this dramatic destruction will help people realize their own role in the extinction of the species.

LIM: If only one child realizes that, you know, here in the Philippines, what he's seeing on TV or in books are actually real animals, and if he tells his parents, you know, please don't buy that ivory, then I think that's good enough impact for us.

LYDEN: And hopefully, Lim is right. It's a horrible sound. And when you think about the animal which was once attached to that tusk, its life wasted, think that it might, through this destruction, save another elephant.


LYDEN: This is NPR News.

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