The practice of burning ivory dates back to July 1989 when Kenya’s then-President Daniel arap Moi ignited a pile of 12 tones of elephant tusks and helped change global policy on ivory exports.
After that, the trade was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
By burning Ivory, Kenya is protesting the continuous poaching of elephants and rhinoceroses targeted for their tusks and horns through a mass burning of ivory and rhino horns that took place over the weekend in Nairobi National Park. The event marked the world’s biggest burning, with over 100 tones of ivory and 1.35 tones of rhino horns involved. The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta lead the symbolic mass burning against poaching of the country’s iconic species, while other African Heads of State, Amara Conservation, conservationists, local and international celebrities were in attendance.
Poaching is a national issue as it threatens both the lives of the animals and the individuals delegated to protect them. Generally, elephants in Africa are increasingly faced with possible extinction judging by the rate they are killed by poachers. A continuous loss of elephants will spell disaster for other wildlife species given the role that they play in the ecosystem.
However, mixed reaction trailed the mass burning, as a number of individuals disagreed over the point of the exercise. In their opinion, burning the ivory was wasteful; will only serve to drive the price of ivory tusks higher and is, therefore, not a sustainable solution.
Sadly, most of the solutions they proffer – including selling the ivory instead – will simply make it difficult to totally eliminate the illegal and harmful trade of ivory, because the action makes them desirable still. Kenya is not alone in adopting this tactic of mass burning to fight poaching. Malaysia recently expressed its intolerance for poaching endangered species by burning 9.5 tones of ivory valued at $20 million, which port officials had earlier confiscated.
At the basic level, burning confiscated ivory serves to discourage smugglers and dealers from partaking in the barbaric act of killing precious wildlife. But more than that, Kenya and other countries in the world that stand against poaching elephants and other wildlife for their parts, are sending a message that some things are worth more than money and can never be replaced.