Kenya to burn huge pile of ivory tusks to protest poaching

It took Kenya's Wildlife Services 10 days to build the crematorium that contained the 105 tons of elephant ivory, 1.35 tons of rhino horn, exotic animal skins and other products such as sandalwood and medicinal bark.

Dignitaries from all over the world are expected to attend the event. (The ivory would be better incinerated in ovens, but the visual effect wouldn't be as dramatic.) This is Kenya's fourth burning since 1989, yet the illegal ivory trade is alive and well in the country.

Kenya will push for the total ban on trade in ivory at the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species to be held in South Africa later this year, said Kenyatta.

Some of the world's leading conservation groups are rooting for enforcement of laws and serious legal measures against well connected individuals, feeding the illicit ivory trade.

Twelve ivory towers burned in Kenya on Saturday, sending thick plumes of ash and smoke over Nairobi National Park as elephant and rhino tusks smoldered.

There are now fewer than 500,000 elephants in Africa, down from around 1.2 million in the 1970s.

On the black market, such a quantity of ivory could sell for more than $100m (£68.5m), while the rhino horn could raise as much as $80m (£55m). But Kenyatta said that Kenya wants to make the point that ivory should not have any commercial value.

Before the burn, Kitili Mbathi, head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, said: "The reason we're doing this is to send a message that there is [no] intrinsic value in ivory, there is only value in elephants".

The ivory here seized from poachers and smugglers over several years-plus from animals who died naturally-is equivalent to just a quarter of the number of elephants massacred every year to feed demand in growing economies in Asia, eager for an elephant's tooth as a status symbol.

Activists say destroying the stocks will put anti-trafficking efforts at the top of the agenda at the next CITES conference.

"These destructions may indeed have mobilized global opinion, but if so it has been equally ineffective since tens of thousands of elephant continue to be poached each year", writes Mike Norton-Griffiths (paywall), a conservationist in Nairobi.

A former film special effects specialist turned pyrotechnic expert has organised the fuel-fed fires, drawing on his expertise to ensure the stockpiles burn as planned despite torrential rain, and the area around the ivory burn a muddy quagmire.

The country staged its first such burning ceremony in 1989 but the latest incineration is thought to be the biggest ever of its kind. Kenyatta said, before setting fire to the pyres.

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