The Kenyan government plans to burn 105 tons of confiscated elephant ivory and around 1 ton of rhino horn on April 30, the next step in a series of gestures to raise awareness for the over 20,000 elephants killed each year by poachers. Illegal elephant and rhino hunting has reportedly increased sharply in recent years, forcing wildlife services to ramp up their anti-poaching efforts. Conservationists hope this burn will demonstrate the poachers how well those tactics are paying off.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is sponsoring the controversial burn, which will be the largest public ivory burn in history. Some conservationists believe that destroying confiscated ivory leads to an increase in black market demand, while others argue that illegal traders will continue to be tempted by government stockpiles, which could be stolen. Either way, poaching is the primary reason that elephants and rhinos are endangered, with numbers in such steep decline that their survival is in question.
Saturday’s burn in Kenya will reportedly destroy the equivalent of $100 million worth of ivory. Most of the ivory was confiscated by authorities during busts of illegal trafficking, but some of the ivory to be destroyed was voluntarily surrendered, during a three-week amnesty period. Meanwhile, South Africa has around $2 billion worth of rhino horn in government stockpiles.
“We are losing elephants and rhinos across Africa at an unsustainable rate,” says AWF President Kaddu Kiwe Sebunya. “This historic event will draw global attention to the illegal wildlife trade, and it has already sparked a national discussion in Kenya and beyond about this issue. With the right political commitment and support of law enforcement, we can move toward a zero tolerance approach to wildlife crime.”