This weekend (April 30) Kenyan President Uhuru Kenya will set a blaze 105 tons of ivory in Nairobi National Park, an event that is aimed at sending a stern warning to poachers that ivory is only valuable when on elephants.
The incinerating event will be attended by world leaders, philanthropists, conservationists and celebrities to witness the destruction of Kenya’s largest stockpile of ivory and 1.35 tons of rhino horn.
But prior to this, participants including UN officials, diplomats, global business leaders and celebrities from across the world will meet on the slopes of Mt Kenya, Nanyuki, for the Giants Club Summit- a meeting of heads of state, business moguls and wildlife conservationists to discuss a more cohesive, continental response to the poaching of elephants and trade in illegal wildlife trophies.
“The fact that this summit will be the single biggest summit of its kind in Africa’s history is an encouraging sign that there is sufficient political goodwill on the continent to enable our collective conservation efforts to succeed,” Kenya’s State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu said in a statement.
The torching of ivory in Kenya has had its own history. The first ever event was carried out by the nation’s second president, Daniel Arap Moi who set fire to about 13 tons in 1989. This was to motivate the world to hasten the banning of trading in tusks. His successors, Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta destroyed a total of 20 tons of ivory and rhino horn in 2009 and 2015.
“We want to show the world that there shouldn’t be any intrinsic value in ivory,” Kenya Wildlife Services Director-General Kitili Mbathi told reporters in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Speaking to the Scientific American, Richard Leakey chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said that burning the ivory will send a strong dissuading message to people who buy ivory in China and in other places.
“My feeling is that many people who are buying this ivory in China and elsewhere simply don’t know what it is doing to elephants,” Leakey said. “Maybe they think that it is coming off elephants that have died of natural causes. When Kenya burns $100 million worth of ivory, they’ll say, ‘What the hell was that about?’ It will help open their eyes to what is actually happening,” he added.
Scientific reports captured between 2010 and 2012 indicate that some 100,000 elephants were lost to poaching across Africa. Over the past decade, the elephant population has fallen by 90 percent and there is glaring evidence that the animal could be extinct within decades if nothing is done now.
Africa is known to host about 500,000 elephants, of which, more than 30,000 are killed every year for their valuable tusks.
It is estimated that the ivory destroyed could fetch up to $100 million and $80 million for the rhino horn.
Is it worth it?
But not all conservationists are in support of the torching event that will take place on Saturday.
According to Mike Norton-Griffiths, a Kenyan ecologist, setting the stock aflame will not address the threat of the rising poaching and could contribute to the rise in prices of the commodity.
“Kenya is making a mistake. It’s an unwise move,” he said in an interview. “Taking such a huge resource completely off the market may in turn back the drop in prices,” the ecologist was quoted by the Bloomberg.
He suggested that instead of destroying their ivory and demonizing consumers in Asia, African governments opposed to the trade should work with authorities in nations such as China to regulate the buying and selling of tusks while advocating for controlled hunting, which works better in protecting wildlife.
“Sit down with consumers and make peace,” Norton-Griffiths said. “We all want the same thing. China is a very good friend of Africa and we are having this stupid spat over elephants.”
Africans and Kenyans, in particular, are embracing the need to protect wildlife, Leakey noted. He recounted an incident when some lions wandered into town and Kenyans took to social media to call for safe recapture and the return of the wild animals. “You’ll soon have a population in Kenya that is as much in love with these animals as people are in London, Paris and New York,” he said.
Mbathi said that Kenya will keep seven tons of tusks for research. Another 25 tons are stuck in litigation or being held as evidence in pending cases, he added.
“This is not another talking shop,” The Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu said in a statement of the Giants Club event that started on Thursday and will end on Friday, April 29, noting that the gathering will help to spread awareness on the dangers of poaching.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for us to show the world that we know how to stop poaching, and for the world to stand alongside us and help us to make it happen,” she said.
Image credit: Carl de Souza/AFP via Getty Images