Changing Planet

Elephant Poachers “Will not Have the Last Word in Kenya”

A plume of dark smoke curled over Nairobi National Park in Kenya last week. A funeral pyre of 15 tonnes of elephant tusks had been erected and set alight on a day that was at once tragic and full of hope.

Kenya’s latest ivory burn comes at the end of a momentous week for elephants and their future. Days earlier China put in place a highly symbolic ban on ivory imports, seeming to signal that this great world power appreciates that she holds the future of Africa’s elephants in her hands.

The ban represents a tightening of the noose. Of course we want a total ban on ivory trade and this is the biggest prize. China is watching the US introduce ivory bans state by state. If they would follow suit at a national scale this would hugely reduce the demand that is driving the killing of elephants and the trafficking of ivory with its smokescreen of legal sales. What’s interesting is the gradual shift of the Chinese government towards stricter and more drastic measures to help save elephants. The country is no longer denying that demand for ivory is a problem and they have tacitly encouraged NGOs to help reduce this demand.

After torching the stockpile, Kenya’s President pledged to destroy all the nation’s ivory — one of the world’s largest stockpiles — in a leading gesture that echoes 1989 when Kenya’s ivory burn helped trigger the international ban on the ivory trade that remains in place today.

“In order to underline our determination to eradicate poaching my government will burn the rest of the stockpile that we have within this year,” said President Kenyatta. “We hope that the rest of the world will follow our action in the same manner.”

In one stroke Kenya has committed to putting its ivory beyond commercial use, a commitment that several Afrcian nations made at a London conference in February 2014. It is particularly significant that Kenya has regained position of leadership in the fight to save elephants and we are all elated that this has happened. To ice the cake all Kenya needs now do is join the African-led Elephant Protection Intiative that was created in February 2014 when Botswana, Gabon, Chad, Ethiopia and Tanzania signed up.

“Our message must remain clear,” continued the President. “Many of these tusks belong to elephants that were wantonly slaughtered by criminals. We want future generations of Kenyans, Africans and indeed entire world to experience the majesty and beauty of these magnificent animals in the natural world. Poachers and their enablers will not have the last word in Kenya.”

Iain Douglas-Hamilton is one of the world's foremost authorities on the African elephant. He pioneered the first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior in Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park at age 23. He received a PhD in Zoology from Oxford University for the work. During the 1970s he investigated the status of elephants throughout Africa and was the first to alert the world to the ivory poaching holocaust. For his work on elephants he was awarded one of conservation's highest awards, the Order of the Golden Ark ,in 1988. He founded Save the Elephants in 1993 in order to create an effective and flexible NGO dedicated specifically to elephants. Iain has assisted numerous media coverages of African elephants by National Geographic, BBC and others. His work was featured in the National Geographic article Samburu Elephants by David Quammen (September 2008 issue).
  • Beatrice Wan

    Ban ivory trade forever! Also ban hunting and capturing elephants especially baby elephants for circuses and zoos!

    What about the rhinos?

  • Ann Hart

    This infuriates me, and breaks my heart. I love elephants. They are beautiful, loving, and the most gentle animals. The sadistic parasites that murder these our precious elephants, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. THE ONLY PLACE IVORY BELONGS IS ON ELEPHANTS!!! STOP BUYING IVORY!!!

  • JA Malone

    Until we see the kingpins publicly identified regardless of position, and proximity to State House, and until we see presidential protection of tuskers, and until we see laws strengthen and penalties imposed, I think we will see more tusks to add to the smoking stockpiles.

  • Marcia Barclay

    Poaching MUST STOP!!!! And be they MUST be Punished severely!!!

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