St. Louis, Mo (Aug. 11, 2023) The Saint Louis Zoo has teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA) to host Toss the Tusk, an ivory surrendering event that encourages the public to join us in our effort to save elephants from wildlife trafficking. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, Friday, Aug. 11, the public can bring any unwanted ivory, pelts, or other animal artifacts or trinkets made from endangered animal parts to the Zoo for the safekeeping of federal law enforcement. Aug. 12 is internationally recognized as World Elephant Day. The Zoo is celebrating on Aug. 11 with Toss the Tusk and other educational elephant activities for guests.
The event kicked off this morning with a press conference at the Asian elephant habitat in River’s Edge at the Zoo. Dwight Scott, Dana Brown President and CEO, Saint Louis Zoo, Dan Ashe, President and CEO, Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and Christopher Aldrich, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), spoke about the Zoo’s elephant family, Toss the Tusk, wildlife trafficking and the collaborative efforts between the partners toward one common goal: saving elephants.
Scott, originally from Chillicothe, Missouri, visited the Zoo many times in his youth. “I recall visiting the Zoo as an adult during one of Raja’s birthday celebrations,” Scott recalled. “You could see the love and support for the multi-generational Asian elephant family from Zoo staff and the community”.
Scott spoke about the incredible work and conservation efforts with Asian elephants, not just at the Zoo, but around the world. The Zoo leads the fight against Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), a viral infection that affects elephants in the wild and in zoos, with an in-house lab for prognosis and treatment protocols that have saved elephants across the nation. The Zoo also significantly contributes to the collaborative AZA Species Survival Plan for Asian elephants and is a Gold Partner of AZA’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance.
During the all-day Toss the Tusk event, guests can turn in any materials from wildlife listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I and Endangered Species Act (ESA). This includes items such as snakeskin from boa constrictors or pythons, macaw and cockatoo bird feathers and teeth from endangered shark species. Guests also will have the opportunity to meet with conservation representatives, including USFWS, Missouri Department of Conservation, AZA’s WTA and Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, to learn more about elephant conservation, wildlife trafficking, wildlife protection efforts in Missouri and view examples of ivory.
"Wildlife trafficking is a serious crime that impacts elephants and other imperiled species throughout the world," said Martha Williams, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The Service is committed to working with the AZA, WTA, and other partner organizations to reduce consumer demand for illegal wildlife products while facilitating the legal wildlife trade. By participating in Toss the Tusk events, members of the public can take an active role in combating wildlife trafficking, while ensuring that elephants and other at-risk species are protected and conserved for future generations.”
“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and its member facilities envision a world where all people respect, value, and conserve wildlife and wild places,” said Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. “The Saint Louis Zoo, an AZA-accredited facility, is a leader in conservation which is underscored by their commitment to combat wildlife trafficking. I applaud their efforts to bring awareness to this important issue and provide members of their community with an actionable way to protect elephants and other endangered species from the illegal trade of wildlife.”
What is Toss the Tusk?
Toss the Tusk is a series of events taking place at zoos across the United States to raise awareness and change behavior related to illegal wildlife trafficking, including the elephant ivory trade. Organized by AZA’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and the USFWS, Toss the Tusk encourages the public to support long-term conservation efforts by attending a local event and contributing wildlife products, such as ivory, to eliminate them from the market and reduce demand.
Elephant ivory is a hard white substance derived from the tusks of elephants. Tusks are teeth (modified incisors) comprised primarily of dense bone tissue (e.g., dentine). Ivory was used to craft both practical and ornamental goods, and the international trade of elephant ivory was legal and largely unregulated prior to the passage of laws such as the ESA and the CITES, an international treaty to ensure that international trade in wild plants and animals does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild. Demand for ivory poses a serious threat to the long-term survival of elephants, and today, international commercial trade, sale, import and export of ivory products is closely regulated or prohibited. See more frequently asked questions.
AZA’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and USFWS will hold two more Toss the Tusk events in 2023: Oakland Zoo on October 7 and Dallas Zoo on October 20. For more information, visit aza.org/wta-toss-the-tusk.
Asian Elephants at the Saint Louis Zoo
Asian elephants are native to the forests and grasslands of India, Sri Lanka and other parts of Southeast Asia. The IUCN Red List classifies this elephant species as endangered and at a very high risk of extinction. Due to habitat loss, poaching and wildlife trafficking, there are only 50,000 Asian elephants left in the wild. International commercial trade in the ivory of elephants is prohibited under CITES Appendix I. In the United States, elephants are protected by the ESA.
The Zoo has cared for Asian elephants since 1916 when Miss Jim was acquired with the help of the citizens of St. Louis. Over 100 years later, the Zoo cares for a multi-generational family of nine Asian elephants. This currently includes one male, Raja, and eight females, ranging in age from 10 to 52 and in weight from 4,000 to 10,000 pounds.
Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute
Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute was created in 2004 with 12 Centers of conservation. Today, we have 30 conservation efforts, including 17 Centers and 13 programs supported all around the world. It has supported elephant conservation, education, protection and research programs in Asia since 2005. In 2019, the WildCare Institute Center for Asian Elephant Conservation was started to increase the Zoo’s commitment to the conservation of this endangered species through increased financial support, as well as through the development of new partnerships through which the Zoo can participate directly in field studies and contribute direct financial, technical and in-kind support.
The Center’s goal is to save this endangered elephant species from extinction. The Zoo has a vision that includes Asian elephants in the world’s future forever, both in zoos and in the wild. The Zoo and its partners focus on Asian elephant management and recovery, conservation science and education.
About the Saint Louis Zoo
Home to over 16,000 animals, representing nearly 500 species, the Saint Louis Zoo is recognized worldwide for its innovative approaches to animal care and management, wildlife conservation, research, and education. One of the few free zoos in the nation, the Saint Louis Zoo is the most-visited attraction in the region. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Saint Louis Zoo is part of an elite group of institutions that meet the highest standards in animal care as well as provide fun, safe and educational family experiences. The Saint Louis Zoo and the other AZA-accredited institutions collectively dedicate millions of dollars annually to support scientific research, conservation and education programs. For more information, visit stlzoo.org.
About the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit aza.org.
About AZA’s Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA)
The Wildlife Trafficking Alliance is a coalition of over 90 nonprofit organizations, companies, and AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, working together to combat illegal wildlife trade around the world. To learn more, visit aza.org/wildlife-trafficking-alliance.
About Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC)
The Missouri Department of Conservation protects and manages the fish, forest and wildlife resources of Missouri. The state agency facilitates citizens' participation in resource management, sustainable fishing and hunting, and provides opportunities to experience, enjoy and learn about nature. For more information, visit mdc.mo.gov.
About the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov, or connect with us through any of these social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. If you encounter potential wildlife crime, please report it to the Service’s wildlife trafficking tips line at 1-844-FWS-TIPS (397-8477) or online at: Wildlife Crime Tips. If your tip leads to an arrest, or other substantial action, you may receive a financial reward.