Nairobi National Park is set to be the site of one of the most expensive bonfires in history as the government seeks to send a message to poachers about Kenya’s natural resources. A dozen pyres of ivory, with a street value of $172 million, seized from illegal poachers throughout the years offers a glimpse into just how massive the poaching crisis is in Africa.
It took several dozen men over a week to unload elephant tusk after elephant tusk from multiple shipping containers and assemble massive ivory towers up to 10-feet tall and 20-feet across at a special site in the Nairobi Park. Many of those ivory tusks were so big it took more than one man to carry a single tusk. CNN has aptly compared the scene as being akin to a graveyard for the iconic endangered species that has lost their lives to become nothing but a commodity in trade.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta intends to add a match to these piles of elephant tusks and turn the graveyard into a crematorium on Saturday. While ivory is the biggest contributor to this pyre, with over 105 tons of elephant ivory being added, there are also 1.35 tons of rhino horn, exotic animal skins such as that from the African native and vulnerable colobus monkey and other products that include sandalwood and medicinal bark.
Coming in at about 100 tons, this will be the grandest destruction of illicit wildlife goods to ever take place in Africa. The first of which occurred in July 1989 and led to a great change in global policy on ivory exports. After the burning, trade in ivory was banned, with exceptions, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Later this year at the CITES in South Africa, Kenya will argue for a total ban on ivory.
This year’s burning of the ivory has been referred to as a last-ditch effort to end the poaching trade that, as the BBC reports, takes the lives of 35,000 elephants every year. Renowned conservationist Richard Leakey, who implemented the original idea of burning has stated that hopefully, eventually the thought of ivory products will lose its luster.
“We want to introduce a sense of embarrassment and shame to the use of products for ornaments, for statues or for eating implements. Nobody should be using someone else’s teeth to enrich themselves.”
National Geographic explorers-in-residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert have been documenting the poaching epidemic for a number of years and emphatically state that if action is not taken it is possible that elephants, as a species, could become extinct in a few decades. They also stated that at the current rate of poaching, rhinos could be extinct in as little as ten years.
Wildlife trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin says that the tusks alone, taken from about 10,000 elephants, could fetch upwards of $105 million on the black market. The rhino horns, from 343 animals, have a monetary value of more than $67 million. Hence, the value of these soon to be burned and destroyed goods is well over $172 million. However, for the people of Kenya, they are not destroying anything of value as to them; elephants are worth infinitely more when they are alive.
Huffington Post has reminded readers of the prominent argument for curbing the killing of the animals for these products by making the trade in ivory legal. Conservationists like the Joubert’s argue that such a move would solve nothing and sent the media outlet an email to such.
“Ivory should be worthless. While it is lying around, it is a currency and can be lifted into the marketplace, and that increases the reward for poachers and traders.”
Philip Muruthi, vice president of species protection for the African Wildlife Foundation, also argues against making the trade legal, saying that it would not benefit Africa at all since tourism, mainly from wildlife, is about 12 percent of Kenya’s GDP. Over the course of its natural life, an elephant can generate up to 76 times more in tourism revenue — nearly 1.6 million — than the estimated $20,000 its tusks are worth in ivory.
Along with conservation efforts, the government is also seeking to educate people about exactly how the elephant tusks and rhino horns are obtained. One of the largest markets for ivory is Asia, especially China, and many people there are said to believe that the tusks simply fall out and are unaware that the elephants are killed for them.
The burning of the pyres is expected to continue for about a week in order to completely destroy the elephant tusks. Though a difficult method of destruction, Kenya’s president feels that the burning is a way to get the world to “listen to its message” about the realities and dangers of poaching and the ivory trade.
[Photo Courtesy of Ben Curtis/AP Images]