Kenya Burns Tons of Tusks Amid Warning Ivory War Not Winnable


Felix Njini, Bloomberg

Date Published

Kenya will burn an estimated 5 percent of the world’s ivory on April
30 in a fiery protest against the global trade in elephant tusks,
while trimming back a stockpile accumulated over past decades to only
32 tons, the head of the nation’s wildlife authority said.

The African elephant, the world’s largest land mammal, faces
extinction as poaching fueled by demand for illicit ivory surges in
Asian markets. There are only 470,000 of the jumbos left in the wild
in 37 countries on the continent, according to the World Wide Fund for

“We want to show the world that there shouldn’t be any intrinsic value
in ivory,” Kenya Wildlife Services Director-General Kitili Mbathi told
reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Between 20,000 to 33,000 elephants are poached every year in Africa,
Esmond Bradley Martin, a conservationist investigating ivory and rhino
horn smuggling, said.

In Kenya, the elephant population has more than doubled to 38,000 from
about 16,000 nearly three decades ago, according to Mbathi. The East
African nation famed for wildlife safaris instituted anti-poaching
measures in the 1980s when rampant killing of pachyderms threatened
their numbers.

This weekend’s torching of 105 metric tons will be Kenya’s fourth. In
1989, former President Daniel arap Moi set fire to about 13 tons to
persuade the world to ban the buying and selling of tusks. His
successors, Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta, destroyed a total of 20
tons of tusks and rhino horn in 2009 and 2015.

The East African nation wants ivory to be “a dirty product that most
people wouldn’t want to be associated with,” Mbathi said.

Wise Move?

Kenya will keep seven tons of tusks — some weighing more than 50
kilograms — for research. Another 25 tons are stuck in litigation or
being held as evidence in pending cases, Mbathi said.

“This is not about burning ivory, it’s about preserving elephants,”
said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at conservation group Wildlife
Direct. “With the scourge in corruption, ivory trafficking is
difficult to control. People think that ivory trafficking is
instituted at high level, but there is even low level corruption from
policemen to court clerks to port workers, which facilitates this.”

Not all conservationists support Kenya’s move to burn its ivory cache.

Setting the stock aflame won’t address the threat of surging poaching
and could stoke a rise in prices of the commodity, according to Mike
Norton-Griffiths, a Kenyan ecologist.

“Kenya is making a mistake, it’s an unwise move,” he said in an
interview. “Taking such a huge resource completely off the market may
in turn back the drop in prices.”

Rather than destroying their ivory and demonizing consumers in Asia,
African governments opposed to the trade should instead engage with
authorities in nations such as China to regulate the buying and
selling of tusks, he said, while advocating for controlled hunting,
which works better in protecting wildlife.

“Sit down with consumers and make peace,” Norton-Griffiths said. “We
all want the same thing. China is a very good friend of Africa and we
are having this stupid spat over elephants.”