CENTRAL PARK — Nearly 2 tons of ivory statues representing the deaths of more than 100 elephants were turned to dust in Central Park Thursday — with an assist from musician Mick Fleetwood — as part of prosecutors' efforts to shut down the illegal ivory market.
The $8.5 million worth of ivory figurines — ranging from depictions of animals and gods to shrines and ships — were put on a conveyor belt and whisked up to a large, industrial rock-crushing machine at the public pulverizing.
The pieces — some of which were were seized in 2016 during the largest ivory haul in state history and others confiscated over the last several years — came out the other end like a hail storm of dust and fragments.
The audience, filled with animal advocates that included the Fleetwood Mac star, cheered as the items were destroyed in a move meant to devalue the market, officials said.
"You look over there and what that actually means... that is 100 elephants. That is what is killed in a day," said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. "That is three years of hard investigative work in New York City. Is this artwork? Why should we destroy it? I don't see this as art... When you're carving on the backs of so many... dead elephants, it's not art. It's just disgusting."
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said that while the event celebrated cracking down on law breakers, he will "always leave these things with a profound sadness."
Investigators last year recovered over $4.5 million in ivory from Metropolitan Fine Arts & Antiques at 10 W. 57th St. that had been taken from more than a dozen endangered African elephants, officials said.
The ivory included two pairs of un-carved tusks standing between 5 and 7 feet tall.
New restrictions were placed on the sale of elephant ivory in 2014, and while some antique dealers had a previous license to sell the ivory, the new rules made it illegal for them to continue.
New York City was once the leading market for illegal ivory in the U.S., but now it has dropped to third thanks to the ban, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The ban still hasn't stopped everyone from dealing in ivory. In July, the Queens District Attorney's office announced that it had arrested the owner and salesman at a Queens gallery for selling ivory sculptures, prosecutors said.
"Since New York passed the state ivory ban in 2014, those charged with enforcing the law have made one thing perfectly clear: if you're thinking of profiting from the sale of elephant ivory in New York, think again, because our state is closed for business," said John Calvelli, the executive vice president of the WCS.
Tens of thousands of elephants are still being killed illegally every year in Africa for their ivory, including roughly 20,000 in 2015. Since 1989, the population of African elephants has fallen by half, to about 400,000, according to WCS.