Millions of Dollars Worth of Ivory to Go Up in Smoke in Kenya

The sheer size of Africa’s poaching crisis is exhibited by an overpowering display.

Several dozen men have circled a site in Nairobi National Park and have carried huge elephant tusks from shipping containers and build them into towers of ivory up to 10 feet tall and 20 feet across for the past week.

For some of the world’s iconic endangered species, it forms something like a graveyard

On Saturday, the graveyard will turn into a crematorium.

105 tons of elephant ivory, 1.35 tons of rhino horn, exotic animal skins and other products such as sandalwood and medicinal bark would be set alight by the llight of a match by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Anything similar that has been done before has been dwarfed by this destruction of illicit wildlife goods.

According to wildlife trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin, the tusks alone — from about 8,000 elephants — would be worth more than $105 million on the black market.

The rhino horn, from 343 animals, would be worth more than $67 million. Together, it’s more than $172 million worth of illicit wildlife goods going up in smoke.

The amount that would be burned down is one and a half times more than Kenya spends on its environmental and natural resources agency every year.

But the Kenyans say that the stockpile is not valuable — it’s worthless.

“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 Wildlife Service Director General Kitili Mbathi said.

About 12% of Kenya’s GDP is made up of tourism, mostly from wildlife and hence it is not just a rhetoric. According to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation group,  over its life, a live elephant generates 76 time more in tourism revenue than it does for its ivory.

But the group’s founder worries about the future.

“I doubt whether my great-grandchildren will actually be able to see wild elephants living a normal life,” said Daphne Sheldrick, the world-renowned Kenyan conservationist who named the charity after her late husband.

In what was the sixth year in a row that the number of poaching incidents has increased, some 1,338 rhinos were poached in Africa last year, a record number.

Elephants are in serious threat. An elephant is killed for its tusks every 15 minutes.

African governments have long puzzled over what to do with confiscated ivory and horn as they have been fighting the illegal trade in wildlife goods.

It has been difficult for many cash-strapped governments to deny the potential income that could be generated from the sale.

The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allows for the trade of ivory under certain circumstances.

The Kenya Wildlife Service developed the idea of burning illegal ivory in 1989 under the leadership of renowned conservationist Richard Leakey.

“Within six months of the burn, in 1990, the elephant poaching virtually stopped in Kenya and in most African countries because there was no market. The only solution was to kill market and we did. It was dead for close to 10 years, maybe longer,” said Leakey.

Saturday’s ivory burn is Kenya’s fourth, and the largest one in history by a large margin.

(Adapted from CNN)

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