“Toss the Tusk,” one of a series of events taking place across the country to raise awareness about the elephant poaching crisis and the illegal ivory trade, will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Los Angeles Zoo.

The idea is to have people turn in their ivory to help keep it off the black market. The goal, organizers said, is to send a global message that elephants are better off alive than dead at the hands of poachers out for their ivory tusks.

One elephant is killed approximately every 25 minutes to satisfy the demand for ivory products, according to information provided at a press conference held Thursday at the LA Zoo.

Poaching is considered a part of wildlife trafficking, which “has quickly escalated into a multibillion-dollar criminal industry, ranking as fourth most profitable transnational crime, only behind the drug trade, arms trade and human trafficking,” said Nathaniel Arnold, assistant chief of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s law enforcement division.

“Possession of ivory or rhino horn is not illegal,” said Arnold, who will be attending Sunday’s ivory collection at the zoo.  However, he said, “It is illegal to buy, sell and trade ivory and rhino horn, and that is the criminal activity our wildlife officers stop.”

Arnold made it clear that there will be no questions asked of those who drop off ivory items.

Toss the Tusk events, which take place at zoos across the country that are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, AZA, encourage the public to stand up for elephants by attending a local event and “surrendering” their unwanted ivory.

The LA Zoo houses four elephants. The best known and most controversial is 34-year-old Billy.

“Billy came to us at 4 years old. The Malaysian government asked us to take him,” according to zoo spokesperson Sienna Spencer-Markles.

The other three are females in their late 40s and 30s. They talk to one another and touch each other, but Billy is mostly kept to himself in a separate yard. There are three yards for the elephants, with a total exhibit area of six acres, including barns and a public area.

In August, Cher, Lily Tomlin and the Voice for Animals Foundation called on the zoo to release Billy to a California sanctuary, but zoo officials rejected that proposal. Saying the sanctuary has not reached out to them, zoo officials have no intentions of releasing the elephant to the facility.

“Much has been said about the Zoo’s elephant program, including persistent misinformation and inaccuracies as it specifically relates to our male Asian elephant, Billy,” zoo officials wrote in a lengthy response to People Magazine’s Kelli Bender, who reported on the involvement of the two celebrities.

“It is important that accurate and factual information about our program be shared so that the public understands why the LA Zoo is an excellent home for these elephants,” the statement continues. “The LA Zoo offers its elephants a state-of-the-art habitat exceeding standards set by the California Fish and Wildlife, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums. All of the Zoo’s elephants enjoy a healthy diet, clever enrichment opportunities, and individual attention and care. In addition, the Zoo has an outstanding team of elephant care specialists, a state-of-the-art hospital facility, and an expert team of veterinarians that provide excellent care for all of our elephants.”


The ivory drop-off is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at the front entrance of the LA Zoo, 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles.