Why Botswana Won’t Burn Illegal Ivory


Tshekedi Khama, the Independent

Date Published


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With populations of African elephants declining alarmingly in many areas because of poaching, habitat loss and conflict with expanding human populations, Botswana has become one of Africa’s most important sanctuaries in the battle to conserve the species.

The country harbours the world’s largest elephant population, representing about 40 per cent of all those left in Africa. The future conservation of savanna elephants will largely depend upon how they fare in their remaining strongholds. The people of Botswana recognise they are custodians of an import global heritage.

The decision to destroy ivory stockpiles aims to deter consumer demand, the illegal trade in tusks and elephant poaching. Its effectiveness is a matter for each country to determine for itself. Since 1989, some African countries have destroyed about 150 tonnes of ivory, with 25 destruction events in 17 countries. Despite this, 20,000 elephants a year are still being killed annually.

In Botswana, we do not destroy ivory because we have told communities that there is value in conserving elephants for eco-tourism and emphasising that the value of a live elephant should be upheld at all costs.

Burning ivory would demonstrate to them that the animal has no value. We prefer not to burn elephant tusks or rhino horns or any other wildlife product which can be used to show to the wider world the value of nature and the importance of conservation.

Botswana is looking at new ways to preserve our commitment to elephants and our people. In 2014 we unveiled a unique elephant sculpture made of ivory in the arrivals hall at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport.

It serves as a reminder to people who pass through this building each day that conservation of this iconic species is our collective responsibility. Complemented with a conservation awareness message, we are saying that one live elephant is worth so much more than all the art made of ivory. The statue is a lasting memorial to raise local, national and global awareness of the devastating impact of illegal ivory and the determination of Botswana and the global community to put an end to it. No one profited from this contraband.

We intend to deliver this conservation message in a similar manner with other ivory, using the products from animals that have died naturally or were slaughtered by poachers.

It is critical that we develop strong symbolic messages and increase efforts to save elephants on all levels — starting locally, with the communities that coexist with the creatures, and continuing globally, with the countries where demand for ivory is highest.

Botswana’s accomplishment stems from political will brought about through transparency, coupled with successful programmes within communities, zero tolerance towards poaching and sustainable management of the country’s natural resources.

Being custodians of globally endangered species comes with tremendous responsibility. It also requires budgetary empowerment to deploy even more sophisticated and innovative methods and equipment than those used by poachers. Its success needs to be supported by donor organisations and states. Botswana will go to the Giant’s Club Summit in Nanyuki, Kenya, this month to represent its commitment to finding solutions that ensure the longevity and sustainability of Africa’s wild elephant population.

For us, burning an elephant’s tusks is like putting the final nail in the coffin of a once magnificent animal. We believe we should preserve and protect whatever remains of these creatures as a reminder of how mankind’s greed leads to the extinction of our planet’s flora and fauna. We cannot burn the shame associated with this and hope it will disappear in smoke — therefore we will not attend the ivory burn event that will follow the summit.