Photos by Ben Curtis for Associated Press
Kenya just made a statement on illegal poaching that the world won’t soon forget. At a ceremony in Nairobi National Park on Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to 11 massive pyres of tusks and horns from nearly 7,000 elephants and 343 rhinos, or more than 105 tons worth. At roughly seven times the size of previous burns, the bonfire is believed to be the world’s largest destruction of illegal wildlife products to date. “The rising value of elephant ivory trade, illegally on the international market, has resulted in a massacre in the rainforest of Africa,” Kenyatta told the crowd. “In 10 years, in central Africa we have lost as many as 70 percent of the elephants. The elephant, as has been said, is an iconic symbol of our country. Unless we take action now we risk losing this magnificent animal.”
The tusks are valued at more than $105 million on the black market, while the rhino horn would be worth almost $67 million, wildlife trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin told CNN.
But not everyone is convinced that destroying the stockpile was the right thing to do.
Richard Leakey, one of Kenya’s leading conservationists, told the New York Times that he felt at once “humbled, sad, and encouraged.”
“We shouldn’t have to burn 105 tons of ivory and 1.5 tons of rhino horn,” he said. “It is a disgraceful shame this continues.”
Others are convinced that it’s the only way to stymie ivory poachers, who kill an elephant for its tusks every 15 minutes.
“Today’s event allows Kenya to send a very public message to the international community and here in Kenya, that it does not tolerate and it will not tolerate the illegal trade in wildlife,” John Scanlon, spokesman for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, told attendees at the blaze. “Not only it has a devastating impact on the animal themselves and their ecosystem but it has an impact on security, on livelihoods and on economy.