A message to poachers: Kenya burns elephant ivory stockpile

Jeremy Hance
July 21, 2011

 Elepahnts in Botswana. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
Elepahnts in Botswana. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.

Yesterday the president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, sent a fiery signal to illegal wildlife traffickers worldwide. Kibaki lit up five tons of elephant ivory, worth $16 million on the black market, to show the continent's resolve to undercut illegal poaching. This was the second time Kenya has set fire to millions of dollars worth of ivory.

"We cannot afford to sit back and allow criminal networks to destroy our common future," Kibaki said. "Through the burning of contraband ivory, therefore, we are sending a clear message to poachers and illegal traders in wildlife about our collective resolve to fight this crime in our region and beyond."

Confiscated in Sinapore in 2002, DNA tests showed that the 335 tusks burnt came from Malawi and Tanzania. The stockpile consisted of over 600 killed African elephants (Loxodonta africana).

Paula Kahumbu, executive director of WildlifeDirect a wildlife NGO in Kenya, attended the event and wrote in her blog that this was the "strongest conservation statement that has come out of Africa in a very long time." Although a powerful statement, Kahumbu notes that Kenya still retains around 60 tons of confiscated elephant ivory, some of which is under heavy guard in Nairobi.

Elephant poaching has come back with a vengeance over the past decade. Elephant ivory was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989 which led to a short reprieve from poaching, however demand for ivory from Asia has made elephant poaching a major problem in many parts of Africa.

"We hope the burning of this ivory will serve as a beacon to other nations holding ivory stockpiles and encourage them to follow this example and destroy the huge amounts of poached ivory they have seized," the executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Mary Rice, said in a press release. "With avaricious consumer markets for ivory such as that in China, where up to 90 per cent of the ivory on the market place is of illegal origin, there is no such thing as a safe or harmless legal trade in ivory; this serves only to confuse consumers, stimulate fresh demand and allow the easy laundering of black market ivory."

"The fire is the right place for it," she adds.

African elephants are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. However, scientists have recently suggested that there are two species of elephant in Africa. The more common savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), which inhabits the Congo rainforest. This elephant is smaller than its savanna cousin and sports straighter tusks. It is also likely more endangered due to poaching.

Forest elephant in Gabon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler
Forest elephant in Gabon. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (July 21, 2011).

A message to poachers: Kenya burns elephant ivory stockpile.