Largest ivory burn in history to take place in Kenya

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Chris Gordon, ZSL Kenya Country Manager, blogs about Kenya’s plan to burn its seized ivory and rhino horn to remove it from the illegal trade system.

A pile of ivory tusks

On 30th April, Kenya will make a huge statement. It will burn its entire stockpile of confiscated and recovered ivory at a site inside Nairobi National Park. This won’t be the first time. Kenya has long held the position that it is best to put wildlife products beyond economic value, to remove them from the system permanently. 

There have been previous burns, most famously in 1989 when Richard Leakey made a statement to the world by burning Kenya’s ivory. It’s happened on three occasions since in 1991, 2011, and 2015. Those four events saw a total of 38.8 tonnes of ivory torched, but these piles of ivory pale into insignificance compared to the 105 tonnes that will be torched next week. I’m struggling to comprehend what 105 tonnes looks like, but judging by the six shipping containers that have been heavily guarded outside the Kenya Wildlife Service for the past week, it’s going to be quite the bonfire. 

The ivory burn follows a two-day elephant summit of the Elephant Protection Initiative, hosted by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, and attended by various African heads of state. Kenya was one of the first members of the Elephant Protection Initiative, which ZSL signed up to in 2015. The message from Kenya is that it is serious about tackling wildlife crime, a message that has been reinforced by recent declines in both elephant and rhino poaching numbers over the past 18 months. 

The statement doesn’t end there.  On the end of the row of burning piles of ivory will be a relatively small fire with equal significance. In fact, this pile of 1.5 tonnes of rhino horn is similar in value to all the ivory burning next to it. Mozambique burnt 124kg of rhino horn last year. On Thursday, the South African government announced it will not be requesting to sell its rhino horn stockpile at this year’s CITES meeting, a decision that was unexpected to many. 

There is an incredible store in Tsavo East National Park that holds the jaw bones of elephants that died during a large drought or were poached in Tsavo in the 1960s. These were collected by the then-Warden of the National Park as he and his men travelled around the park. At some stage, they were housed in this store to protect them from the elements, and can be seen now precisely displayed in row upon row. All 5,000 of them. This probably represented less than 20% of the elephants that were lost to poaching in Tsavo up to the late 1980s. It blows my mind every time I see all these jaw bones, an image encapsulating 5,000 elephants. 

The pictures you see next week of the ivory and rhino horn burning in Kenya will tell a story of roughly 3,000 elephants and 250 rhinos lost. That’s almost 10% of Kenya’s elephants and 40% of her black rhinos. 

Join the Twitter conversation about protecting rhinos and elephants on Saturday 23rd April, at 1pm UK time, by using the #LightAFire, #WorthMoreAlive and #Tweet4Elephants hashtags.

Light a fire logo Kenya ivory burn


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