The Government Warehouse That Stores Illegal Ivory Is Totally Full

The $10 billion illegal ivory industry has grown so large that a giant illegal ivory storage facility in Colorado is at capacity. Now they have to destroy the ivory.

The Government Warehouse That Stores Illegal Ivory Is Totally Full
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In October, U.S. enforcers of wildlife trafficking laws will destroy a mountain of ivory stockpiled in a warehouse in Colorado in a new public push to stem an illegal $10 billion industry.


The big “crush” comes because they have seized so much ivory–more than six tons. There’s literally no room to store it anymore.

The Denver Post describes the warehouse, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Property Repository, which holds wildlife objects and parts that are seized from smugglers. U.S. authorities are prohibited from selling any of it:

The warehouse increasingly is stuffed with ivory that no longer fits on shelves. Piles of tusks and boxes full of bracelets and trinkets clutter the floor. Forklifts are used to clear pathways between heavy pallets of the plunder.

Some tusks are from young elephants — representing generations lost because elephants cannot reproduce until age 25 and poachers usually kill elephants before sawing off their tusks.

The seized ivory includes ornate carvings. A pair of 18-inch-tall Asian ivory figurines depicting a classical Chinese lady and gentleman already were labeled with price tags: $7,500 each.

Awareness-raising is one reason for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clean house, and it is sorely needed to stem demand for illegal ivory in the international markets. The poaching problem is growing in Africa, and as with the drug trade in Latin America, the proceeds are being used to fuel violence. Kenyan officials, for instance, have said elephants poached in their territory are linked to the Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab, the group that’s claiming responsibility for last week’s deadly attack in a Nairobi shopping center. Conservation International says that other funds have been linked to terrorist networks like the Janjaweed militia in Darfur and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

Because illegal wildlife trade is one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities and perhaps since it is less policed than trafficking in drugs or counterfeit currency, poaching of elephants and other animals has been on the rise. Poachers killed 35,000 elephants alone in 2012–almost 100 a day.


On Wednesday, Zimbabwe announced that 87 elephants were slaughtered in one swoop through cyanide poisoning. Officials have been finding the elephants with their tusks removed. In the last decade, African forest elephant populations have declined by 76%, according to Conservation International.

This week, conservation groups, including Conservation International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the African Wildlife Foundation–all of which were in New York City for the Clinton Global Initiative– announced a new $80 million, three-year commitment to help African governments crack down on poaching, strengthen intelligence networks, stiffen penalties, and work on reducing demand for the products, especially where it is growing in Asia.

“This commitment takes a triple pronged approach by dedicating funding to: ‘stop the killing,’ ‘stop the trafficking,’ and ‘stop the demand,’ the organizations said in a press release. Some of the funds, for example, will support an additional 3,100 guards at key elephant sites in Africa and additional sniffer dogs at 10 key transit points.

The effort comes on the heels of a new White House initiative that Hillary Clinton announced this summer. In July, President Obama created the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking through an executive order. The task force, which provides new funds and resources to fight the trade, was on hand when the administration announced the somewhat symbolic destruction of the ivory stockpiled in Denver.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.