Kenya Burns $150 Million Worth of Ivory to Protest Illegal Elephant Poaching
On Saturday, Kenya, led by President Uluru Kenyatta, torched 105 metric tons (or over 230,000 pounds) of recovered ivory tusks in a huge bonfire. The ivory burned was worth $150 million, or up to 8,000 elephants and 343 rhinos, according to Associated Press.
The 11 burning pyres — the largest single burning of ivory ever — were a statement to demonstrate Kenya's seriousness about ending the illegal poaching and trading of ivory by showing how ivory is "worthless unless it is on our elephants," Kenyatta said, according to Slate.
"No one, and I repeat, no one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death — the death of our elephants and the death of our natural heritage," Kenyatta said, according to the New York Times.
Usually, elephants are killed by poachers and their tusks are sent to Asia, where they are made into items like combs or eyeglass frames, via the black market. Poaching for ivory is one of the dominant factors in elephants' declining population, despite the sale of ivory being banned in 1989, Slate reported.
In 1989, Kenyan conservationist Richard Leakey similarly burned a large bonfire of ivory. "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 of Saturday's burning, according to Scientific America. "It will help open their eyes to what is actually happening."
Not everyone believes the politically charged burning was necessary, arguing that the money should have been used to protect the nation's wildlife rather than just burned away. But Kenyan politicians argued the point that the ivory should not have value to begin with.
In the 1970s, just four decades ago, Africa had over 1.3 million elephants roaming the continent. Now that number has dwindled to just 500,000, the Associated Press reported.