Belgium destroyed 1.7 tons of ivory on Wednesday to bring attention to the illegal trade that has fueled a decades-long surge in elephant poaching in Africa, significantly impacting the large mammal's ever-dwindling population.
The Western European nation is reportedly frequently used as a transport hub because of its many ports and ties to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony. More than half of the ivory seized in Belgium originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Reuters reported
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"It's the fourth largest illegal trade after drugs, human trafficking, and weapons and it allows organized gangs to make money, putting at risk already threatened species and our ecosystem," Laurette Onkelinx, minister for animal welfare, told reporters before helping to push the ivory into a cement crusher, Reuters noted.
The ivory destroyed Wednesday was a mixture of complete tusks, ivory statues, and jewelry that was said to have a street value of up to $600 per pound.
International Fund of Animal Welfare CEO Azzedine Downes joined Belgian officials at the event.
"This is a huge problem and there's an urgency to it," Downes told Reuters. "[There are] 500,000 elephants left in the world estimated. Up to 50,000 elephants a year are being killed. So if you do the math it leaves 10 years, 10 years left."
"If it's not stopped we in fact could lose elephant populations," Downes added.
The European Parliament passed a landmark resolution earlier this year condemning the illegal poaching of elephants while calling for a moratorium on all ivory sales across the continent, National Geographic reported
In February, France similarly destroyed more than 3 tons of illegal ivory seized by French customs agents, becoming the first European nation to destroy stockpiles of the banned material.
Seizing and destroying illegal ivory isn't only happening in Europe.
In January, China destroyed 6.83 tons of ivory
that was confiscated as part of a concerted effort by the government to stomp out illegal poaching and smuggling.
Additionally, in February the African nation of Chad destroyed 1.1 tons of illegal ivory seized by local authorities.
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