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For Release: Tuesday, May 16, 2023

DEC Announces New Display of Elephant Ivory Seized from Illegal Trade at New York State Museum

Display Shines Light on Global Fight to Save Elephants from Extinction

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced elephant ivory seized during a massive DEC-led crackdown on the illegal ivory trade is now on display at the New York State Museum. The announcement of the new display, just prior to Endangered Species Day on May 19, is a reminder of the rampant and continued slaughter of the African elephant, rhinoceros, and other iconic endangered species that fuel the transnational illegal trade in wildlife.

"The senseless and horrific poaching of these awe-inspiring animals to create trinkets and trophies is grotesque," Commissioner Seggos said. "New York City remains the nation's largest port of entry for illegal wildlife goods and DEC's Division of Law Enforcement is working diligently to stop the businesses fueling the trade. DEC cannot do this work alone and this new display at the New York State Museum will shed light on a decades-long crisis that threatens the very existence of elephants and rhinoceros and encourage museum visitors to join us in the fight against poachers and sellers of illegal ivory."

From 2015 to 2018, DEC's Division of Law Enforcement launched an undercover operation in New York City dubbed "Operation White Gold," focusing on high-end antique dealers and wholesale distributors throughout the five boroughs. Operation White Gold resulted in the largest-ever crackdown on the illegal ivory trade in New York State history with 18 corporations and 25 associated individuals charged with felony-level crimes. In addition, DEC Officers executed multiple search warrants and seized thousands of pieces of illegal elephant ivory, ranging from jewelry and small statues to five and seven-foot raw tusks, that make up a multi-billion-dollar-per-year industry. The seized ivory weighed in at nearly two tons and had a combined market value of more than $12 million. DEC destroyed most of the seized ivory in a massive crush in New York City's Central Park in 2017. Video is available on DEC's YouTube page (leaves DEC website).

State Education Department Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said, "We must all take responsibility for helping to protect our endangered wildlife by joining the global movement in support of safeguarding precious wildlife and preventing the illegal trade and sale of ivory in our state. The display of confiscated elephant ivory and other items at the New York State Museum serves as a powerful reminder of the devastation caused by these insidious activities, and why more education, awareness, and collaboration are needed to combat them and effect long-term change."

John Calvelli, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at the Wildlife Conservation Society said, "At the Wildlife Conservation Society, we were proud to partner with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos with our '96 Elephants' campaign to strengthen law banning the sale of elephant ivory in New York State. We welcome DEC's continued efforts to curb all illegal wildlife trade in New York as it drives home the important message that the killing of elephants for ivory is a threat to the survival of the species."

In 2014, New York State strengthened its laws on interstate ivory sales, increasing penalties against buyers and sellers whose actions further endanger elephant populations worldwide. Since the law took effect, DEC enforcement has focused on the illegal ivory trade and resulted in charges against approximately 40 corporations and 75 individuals, including those brought down during Operation White Gold." Today, Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) routinely conduct unannounced and undercover visits of retail stores and wholesale dealers throughout New York State to ensure that ivory is not being sold or trafficked illegally.

The New York State Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (leaves DEC website). For more information on New York State ivory laws (PDF), visit DEC's website.

To contact an ECO or Investigator to report an environmental crime or to report an incident, call 1-844-DEC-ECOS for 24-hour dispatch or email (for non-urgent violations).

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