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France destroys three tonnes of ivory at foot of Eiffel Tower

media Ivory seized in Togo Reuters/Noel Kokou Tadegnon

French officials destroyed some three tonnes of ivory in public on Thursday as part of an effort to stop the illegal trade. France is the first European country to do so.

The poaching of ivory, which is produced from elephant tusks, is responsible for the near-extinction of elephants in Africa.

There are only 500,000 left, half of the total in 1980.

French environmental campaign group Robin des Boishas been campaiging for the destruction of stocks for some time, arguing that it ensures the ivory never makes it back into the market.

They estimate there are 17 tonnes of illegally seized ivory in France today, dispersed in various holding sites, such as customs storage and museums.

They wrote to the French government last summer asking for an account of how much illegally acquired ivory France has and asking for it to be destroyed.

In October they were told they could not have the information requested and that France was not planning on destroying its stocks.

Then in December France changed its mind.

"I think it's a chain reaction," Robin des Bois's Miriam Potter told RFI. "America recently destroyed 5.4 tonnes and the American executive office sent out a press release with a kind of appeal, to ask countries to follow suit. China is going to destroy a lot of their stockpile, certain Indian provinces. Once one country takes the lead, other countries will follow."

The three tonnes of ivory destroyed at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on Thursday had been seized at Charles De Gaulle airport and included 698 whole tusks and over 15,000 small pieces, including jewellery and figurines.

"One of the reasons why they held onto them was because they wanted to use them for educational purposes, to show children what a tusk looked like, why it was important to defend elephants," Potter says. "Now, today, we realize we don't need that much ivory."

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