Some people ask what the reasoning is behind an ivory burn. Some have suggested that flooding the market with ivory would help drive down prices and demand or that a one-time sale of this ivory could fund conservation efforts.
Discussion was further fuelled by Kenya’s recent ivory burn that took place in Nairobi National Park on April 28th, 2016. With eleven pyres of the tusks of roughly 8,000 elephants, as well as rhino horns and animal skins, this was the largest burn every to take place.
Many nations, including the US and Kenya have publicly destroyed ivory contraband to stop the trade. (Ivory Stockpile Burns 1989 – 2016)
Here are some reasons why the ivory burn was the right decision.
- The ivory is illegal to sell as per CITES Appendix I and many nations’ laws;
- Previous one-off sales of ivory have resulted in dramatic increases in poaching; and its sale would be morally reprehensible.
- Countries who destroy ivory show that they value the whole elephant, that ivory belongs only on them, and it’s valuable ONLY to living elephants.
- If Kenya’s 105-tonne ivory stockpile had legally entered the market, it would have provided a conduit for laundering the vast amounts of illegal ivory that are smuggled out of Africa and into Asian nations, funding terrorist groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabab.
- History has shown us that after CITES listed the African elephant on Appendix I and banned the international trade in ivory in 1989, poaching levels dropped, elephant populations began to recover and flourish again, and the illegal trade slowed dramatically.
- The two legal CITES one-off sales of ivory stockpiles, to Japan in 1997 and Japan and China in 2008, had disastrous consequences for African elephants.
- China’s ivory carving factories fired up and the poaching crisis exploded.
- More than 100,000 African elephants have been slaughtered in recent years, with approximately 90% of tusks successfully smuggled through transit nations and into the vast black market. The New York Times reported in 2012 that 70% of illegal ivory was being smuggled into China. Legal trade fuels poaching and increases demand for more ivory.
- China’s population is 1.408 *billion* people. Even if only 1% of the Chinese people purchased ivory, that’s still 14 million people demanding it. With only about 450,000 elephants at most still existing on the African continent, the species would be wiped out with legal trade and an escalation in demand.
- It’s estimated that only 10% of illegal tusks are intercepted and seized. Imagine how immense Kenya’s burning stockpile would have been if all illegal ivory had been recovered.
Elephant advocate Ann Early made the point about today’s ivory burn in the most succinct statement we’ve read, and kindly gave her permission to share it:
“All day I’ve been defending the Kenya ivory cremation in comments on articles or posts from people who think the tusks should be put on the market to raise money for Kenya. it is hard for some people to grasp the moral contradiction of selling the tusks of poached elephants into the ivory market while decrying the destruction and unspeakable torment of this species by that very same trade.”
Kenya did the right thing and we applaud the Kenya Wildlife Service for their hard work and vision, as well as Dr. Richard Leakey and Dr. Winnie Kiiru who supervised the operation and the verification of inventory. Thank you to all the elephant researchers and conservationists who attended the ivory burn; as heartrending as these images are for those of us a continent and ocean away, we can only imagine how sorrowful it must have been for you to witness in person with the acrid smell of smoke and death in the air.
Someday future generations who will inherit the earth will look back at these times and the ghastly crimes against elephants and nature, which are also crimes against humanity, particularly the African people. Robbing a nation’s people of their wildlife – which provides tourism jobs and accounts for 12% of Kenya’s GDP – and killing the creatures who grow the forests and are intrinsic parts of their ecosystems is a crime against the nation’s people.
Humanity should collectively hang our heads in shame for the elephants’ unfathomable suffering and tortuous deaths. It’s a stain on our species that legal trade in ivory was ever allowed and that we have not yet stopped the poaching. It is our imperative to do so.
This is our last chance to save elephants from extinction. We don’t get a do-over once they’re gone, and if we allow elephants and rhinos to go extinct, it would be humanity’s unpardonable crime.
First photo: Stand Up Shout Out