Yesterday, together with most of Africa’s top elephant conservationists, I witnessed the burning of 5 tons of ivory at the Kenya Wildlife Service training center in Manyani, which is located in one of Kenya’s greatest National Parks, Tsavo West Kenya.
(I recorded video, photographs and podcasts of the event which WildlifeDirect is willing to sell to raise funds for conservation. Please leave a comment on this post if you are interested in supporting us by buying your own copy of the event to support WildlifeDirect and elephant conservation)
This is the strongest conservation statement that has come out of Africa in a very long time – the destruction of ivory worth about 15 million dollars.
This is the second time that Kenya has burned ivory to send a powerful message about how the ivory trade is killing Africa’s elephants. Although the Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki lit this funeral pyre of over 200 elephants, this time it wasn’t Kenya’s ivory. The elephants that had been slaughted for this ivory came from Malawi and Zambia, thousands of kilometers south of Kenya.
The ivory burned was part of a shipment seized in Singapore in 2002 following an investigation spearheaded by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the Environmental Investigation Agency. Susan Rice of the EIA told me that it was the 19th shipment of ivory from Zambia that was seized in an operation that revealed a complex web of players including poachers, government agents, and traders.
This massive illegal trade in ivory, was linked to China and Japan that had been authorized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species, CITES.
Ambassadors of both countries were visibly absent at the ceremonial ivory burn.
Conservationists have been warning that the massive demand for ivory in China cannot be satisfied by Africa’s elephants and as a result, ivory prices have been increasing, triggering a surge in poaching across Africa.
Wildlife enforcement authorities in Africa are struggling to defend elephants against this renewed threat. And the unwillingness of African Governments to prosecute Chinese nationals involved in illegal ivory trade makes it near impossible to stop them.
The effect is devastating for elephant and it is particularly evident than in Samburu in northern Kenya where so many elephants have been killed in recent months that adult males are noticeably abswent, and some elephant families no longer have matriarchs – the oldest female leaders who maintain order in elephant society.
Saving Africa’s elephants requires not only bold statements and commitments by African leaders. We need action and we need it now. Everyone can agree that African elephants will continue to be at risk of extinction unless the trade in ivory is stopped. This can be achieved if the demand for ivory is destroyed.
Only 5 tons of ivory were burned today – it represents a tiny fraction of Africa’s stockpiled ivory. Kenya alone has 60 tons of ivory held in vaults in Nairobi and in the field. Valued at between 500 and 2000 dollars per kilogram, the cost of protecting this ivory is immense. But it’s mere presence creates a threat that it will be raided by outsiders or even insiders. The maintenance of the Kenyan stockpile sends a confusing message to the world that while Kenya is ready to burn Malawian and Zambian ivory, she is holding onto her own stockpile – could this be for future sales perhaps?
While congratulating the countries of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force for burning this ivory, conservationists identified three additional actions that would secure the future of elephants in Africa
- To appeal to the CITES convention to remove China and Japan’s status as a approved ivory trading partners
- To destroy all of Africa’s ivory stockpiles
- To strengthen enforcement by enacting and enforce laws with significant penalties against poachers, traders and buyers of ivory regardless of their nationality