On Saturday, April 30, piles of ivory tusks from illegally killed elephants were burned by the Kenyan government in a symbolic protest of poaching.
The Guardian reports that the ceremonial burning in Nairobi national park was attended by Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, heads of state including Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, high-ranking United Nations and US officials, and charities. Conservation groups around the world applauded Kenya’s work in discouraging poaching endangered elephants in addition to other species.
Illegal poaching and selling of tusks is a staple in the global black market. Wildlife trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin told CNN that the tusks alone – from about 8,000 elephants – would be worth more than $105 million on the black market. Rhino horns from 343 animals, also included in Saturday’s burn, would be worth more than $67 million. In spite of this, Kenya Wildlife Service Director General Kitili Mbathi stated, “From a Kenyan perspective, we’re not watching any money go up in smoke. The only value of the ivory is tusks on a live elephant.”
Kenya’s wildlife service spent 10 days to build the 12 pyres of ivory burned on Saturday, composed of 105 tons of elephant ivory, 1.35 tons of rhino horn, exotic animal skins and other illegally obtained products such as sandalwood and medicinal bark. This was Kenya’s fourth such burn since 1989 – an idea hatched to combat the worsening poaching crisis.
According to National Geographic, poaching in Africa is driven primarily by demand in Asia for wildlife products. Three-quarters of illegal ivory makes its way to China, while Vietnam is the largest market for rhino horn. Updated elephant population estimates, issued by the U.S. State Department in March, now hover around 400,000, indicating that one in five elephants have been killed for their tusks during the past 10 years. Last year, 1,338 rhinos were killed for their horns, out of a total estimated population of just 25,600 black and white rhinos.
Some nations have criticized Kenya, a country with a struggling economy, for burning a lucrative natural resource. In response, Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, stated, “There’s a passing of judgment from some that we’re doing the wrong thing, because Kenya is a poor country, and we could use the $150 million-odd dollars that they claim the ivory is worth to develop our nation. But I would rather wait for the judgment of future generations, who I am sure will appreciate the decision we have taken today.”
Kenya will continue to monitor and protect elephant populations against illegal poaching in their efforts to sustain the dwindling species.