Giants Club summit: 100 tonnes of ivory up in smoke – but the hard work is on the front line


Alex Dymoke, The Independent

Date Published


See link for photo & Giants Club video, “Elephants are worth more alive.”
On Saturday, the world watched as President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to over 100 tonnes of ivory, the largest amount ever to be burned in one go. It was a powerful symbolic gesture. To see 105 tonnes of ivory, worth over $150 million on the black market, go up in flames is to get a vivid sense of Kenya’s commitment to ending the blood-soaked trade decimating Africa’s elephants.

What fewer people saw was the day before, when conservationists, politicians, heads of state and business people gathered in Laikipia, Kenya, at the Giants Club summit, talking, negotiating, carving out real frontline measures set to make a real difference to conserving Africa’s elephant populations. Here there were no licking flames, towering pyres or dramatically billowing smoke. The work, however, was just as important. More so. For if Africa’s elephants are to survive into the coming decades it is vital front line protection is bolstered.

The African elephant, the world’s largest land mammal, faces extinction because of mass poaching fuelled by demand for illicit ivory, mainly in Asian markets. Around 30,000 elephants are killed every year across the continent. Some say all frontline conservation is futile. As long as ivory sells for thousands in China, the argument goes, poachers will always find a way to kill elephants.

But as Dr Max Graham, CEO of the Space for Giants, parent charity of the Giants Club, has said, rampant demand in the Far East should not be an excuse for passivity in Africa. Ranger forces and perimeter fences will not solve the poaching crisis on their own. But they will buy us time while we wait for Chinese attitudes to turn against ivory.

The Giants Club aims to protect 50 per cent of Africa’s elephants by 2020. At the summit, founding members Botswana, Kenya, Gabon and Uganda – who together hold 50 per cent of the continent’s elephants – took the first momentous steps toward making this aim a reality.

Financiers pledged more than $5 million in immediate funding for a new Kenyan, Gabonese, Botswanan, and Ugandan conservation initiative. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced $300,000, UK-based NGO the Elephant Family pledging $500,000, and the ICCF Group, an international conservation organisation, pledging $200,000.

Jody Allen, a leading US philanthropist who co-founded the Paul G Allen Family Foundation, committed fresh support for a special operations unit, and strengthened legal capacity for convicting poachers and traffickers, for Botswana. Kim Tan, CEO of SpringHill Management, will support new impact investments.

Liu Xianfa, China’s Ambassador to Kenya, read a personal letter from President Xi Jinping, describing the “great importance” the Chinese leader placed on the summit, and promising China’s future support.

Interventions announced at the event included:

• Gabon plans to double staff at its National Parks Agency from 750 to 1,500

• Uganda intends to construct an electrified fence around Murchison Falls National Park to reduce incidents of human-elephant conflict

• Botswana will form an intelligence-led special operations unit to support wildlife rangers

• Kenya will launch a National Conservation Endowment Fund, whose profits will fund conservation

These measures won’t end poaching on their own, but they will give elephants a fighting chance.

Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of The Independentand the Giants Club’s patron, said the summit and ivory burn sent a strong message the illegal wildlife trade must be stopped: “We need to remember that an elephant is being killed every 20 minutes. If we let that carry on, this magnificent animal could be extinct.”

“What we have seen at the Giants Club Summit is the start of an African conservation revolution,” said Graham. “It has an amazing few days that none who will present will ever forget.”