By Fredrick Nzwili
NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya today burned tons of stockpiled ivory, sending a strong message against elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.
The burning is the latest in a series of ivory stockpile destructions by nations across the world. During the past three years, Gabon, Belgium, Chad, China, Hong Kong, Zambia, France, Philippines, and the USA have all destroyed contraband ivory and rhino horn.
In Nairobi National Park, site of previous symbolic ivory burnings, President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to 15 tons of tusks.
The event—timed for World Wildlife Day, as well as the African Union’s designated day to celebrate the late Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai—was attended by African Union representatives, UN agencies in Nairobi, international environmental organizations, and diplomats.
“Today,” Kenyatta said, “I once again assure the international community that Kenya is resolved to preserve humanity’s shared heritage in wildlife. Our commitment to save our great species, especially the elephant and the rhino, remains as strong as ever.”
Kenyatta pledged to destroy the rest of Kenya’s ivory stockpile by the end of this year.
In 2011, President Mwai Kabaki set ablaze more than five tons of ivory at the official launch of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF). This was ivory that had been seized by LATF countries.
In a historic event in 1989, President Daniel Moi set fire to 12 tons of ivory, which spurred the global ivory trade ban that came into force the next year.
“Our message must remain clear. Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals,” he said.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesman Paul Udoto said Kenya was asking the world to stop buying ivory and that people do not need it to live.
As smoke from the burning ivory blackened the sky, wildlife conservationists praised the action, saying it will boost the war against poaching, which is putting heavy pressure on Kenya’s elephants and rhinos.
According to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials, Kenya now has about 38,000 elephants.
“This will send strong message to the world,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Kenya-based Save the Elephants. “If we sit and do nothing, the animals will disappear.
“China has banned international trade in ivory, but I think what’s needed is a ban in its domestic market,” he said.