Why Kenya burned ivory

by | May 5, 2016

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.

The Tsavo West National Park is a section of one of the largest wildlife conservancies on the planet, as well as one of Kenya’s largest wildlife national parks. It is well-known for its resident population of Red Elephants as well as the tale of the Tsavo Man-eaters. Unfortunately, most of the communities bordering these parks have never had a chance to visit them due to the cost. For these reasons Amara organizes game drives with Purdue University students each year into Tsavo West National Park. We also encourage children to form Wildlife Clubs and embrace their wildlife and environment. This year Mrabenyi Secondary School in Taita Taveta County had the opportunity to tour the vast Park and interact with the University students from USA.


tHistorically, the Tsavo Area is renowned for the Man-eaters of Tsavo, two mane-less lions who developed a taste to prey on humans back in the early 1900’s (various reasons are cited for this, one recently being that they suffered from tooth decay and pain that made hunting difficult for them!). Although they were later shot, they killed many people that were constructing the railway line connecting Mombasa and Nairobi. Additionally, it was the main battlefield between the Germans and the Britons in Africa in the course of World War I. Currently the area is very peaceful and is now famous for its resident Red-colored Elephants, that enjoy dust-bathing in the red colored soil. The serene environment of Tsavo comes mainly with thorny bushland, open grasslands and among the most beautiful scenic areas are; the Yatta plateau, the World’s longest lava flow stretching 290km; Mzima springs; Shetani Lava Flow; Chaimu Hill; and Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary.

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