Changing Planet

Ethiopia Burns Entire 6.1-Ton Ivory Stockpile

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — At a ceremony today in the capital, Ethiopia burned its entire 6.1-ton ivory stockpile. The event was held at the Gulele Botanical Garden, close to the headquarters of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), where the ivory had been stored.

Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen and officials from the Ministries of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and from Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority attended, along with ambassadors and representatives from international and national environmental organizations.


Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen at today's ivory burn. Photograph by and courtesy of Zeleke Tigabe Abuhay/African Wildlife Foundation.
Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen at today’s ivory burn. “If we allow elephants to be killed, not only will we betray our heritage, but we will impoverish ourselves and future generations. This will not happen on our watch,” he said in his speech. Photograph by and courtesy of Zeleke Tigabe Abuhay/African Wildlife Foundation.


Ethiopia joins ten other governments that have destroyed all or part of their ivory stockpiles: Kenya (12 tons in 1989, 5 tons in 2011, 15 tons in March 2015); Zambia (9.5 tons in 1992); Gabon (4.8 tons in June 2012), the Philippines (5 tons in June 2013), the United States (6 tons in November 2013), China (6 tons in January 2014), France (3 tons in February 2014), Chad (1.1 tons in February 2014), and Belgium (1.5 tons in April 2014), and Hong Kong (29.6 tons in May 2014).

Ethiopia is both a source and transit country for ivory. In 2014, 106 people were arrested in connection with ivory trafficking, nearly all of them Chinese transit passengers apprehended at Bole International Airport, in Addis Ababa.

The country now has as few as 1,800 elephants, down 90 percent from the 1980s, according to Ethiopia’s National Ivory Action Plan. Fragmented populations are holding on in Babille Elephant Sanctuary (about 250), Gambella (about 340), Omo (about 410), Kafta-Shiraro (about 300), Chebera Chuchura (about 450), and Alatish and Geralle National Parks.

Zeleke Tigabe Abuhay, manager of the African Wildlife Foundation’s (AWF) Simien Mountains landscape program in Ethiopia and former director of the Wildlife Development and Protection Department at EWCA, has followed developments closely.

Since 2012, AWF has worked with EWCA to strengthen management and wildlife protection in and around some of the country’s premier protected areas. It is also currently training detection dogs for eventual deployment to Bole International Airport to help intercept ivory and other smuggled wildlife products. On March 19, Abuhay spoke to National Geographic about the pending ivory destruction.

What led up to Ethiopia’s decision to destroy its entire stockpile?

The momentum has been building for some time. Our neighbor Kenya just destroyed ivory, and we’ve seen other countries destroying all or part of their ivory stocks, showing their commitment to stop ivory trafficking.

Last year, Ethiopia issued a National Ivory Action Plan, which shows the country’s attention to the elephant poaching crisis. It outlines intentions to conduct a review of laws and how to improve law enforcement efforts. The plan also shows a timeline for destroying ivory, which was supposed to happen by April of this year. We are also a signatory to CITES, and this move is in compliance with their requirements and recommendations to better combat illegal trade in wildlife.

It gets the message out there that Ethiopia is serious about this issue and will hopefully discourage ivory traffickers from using our country as a transit hub.

How will the ivory be destroyed?

The ivory will be burned. I’m not sure how long this will take, but when it’s completed, there will be nothing left but ash. International media, conservation groups, government officials will all be in attendance and will be able to verify the complete destruction.

Is illegal ivory a big problem in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is both a source and transit hub for smuggled ivory. We have a small population of elephants spread out in different sites, and though elephant poaching is not as big as in other countries, it has increased year to year here.

Also, with a major international airport and Ethiopian Airlines, we’re connected increasingly to other parts of the world—other parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the U.S. So it’s perhaps easy to see why ivory is smuggled through Ethiopia.

What are the main challenges in protecting Ethiopia’s elephants?

There are many challenges protecting the populations along the borders with Sudan and South Sudan. Ethiopia’s wildlife authority has little capacity—training, human resources, lack of financial support—to protect all of the country’s 1,800 elephants, which is why it is working with conservation groups and others to strengthen management and protection in these protected areas, and also with different stakeholders like the customs authority and police to enforce laws.

What steps is Ethiopia taking to reduce the illegal ivory trade?

Ethiopia has developed an action plan to help guide efforts on the ground to combat ivory trafficking, which is the main problem. The government is reviewing its laws and making adjustments to the legal framework where needed. They are looking to increase penalties for those who contravene the country’s wildlife crime laws and want to ensure the judiciary is reinforcing the country’s new tough stance.

This will require magistrate training, which groups like AWF and other partners can assist with. In time, this will serve as a deterrent to traffickers. There’s also a need to increase detection and interception of ivory with things like sniffer dogs, and we’re working with the wildlife authority to bring these to places like the airport.

Laurel Neme is the author of ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, a narrative non-fiction “CSI for wildlife” with a foreword by Richard Leakey and endorsed by Jane Goodall that's been featured on ABC News Nightline and NPR’s Science Friday. She is also the author of the children's book, ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, based on a true story of an ape who outwits his zookeeper. She has hosted The WildLife radio show and addressed a range of groups on wildlife forensics and trafficking, and animal intelligence, including INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group, the St. Louis Zoo, American Museum of Natural History, universities, school groups and libraries. Previously, she worked on natural resource and wildlife management as both a government officer and international consultant in dozens of countries around the world, helping her understand the real-life tradeoffs between wildlife protection and human economic needs. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Michigan and PhD from Princeton University. See Laurel Neme's website for more.
  • Thomas

    Dear Laurel,
    This is a good progress.
    What you failed to report, however, is
    a/ that Indian and Saudi commercial farmers have done
    enormous destruction to flaura and fauna in those same regions [never mind uprooting indigenous communities]
    b/ that the 6.1 tonne size is not quite accurate and is meant primarily for donor consumption. Don’t forget this is election year and also the year for Millennium Development Goals report card. Ethiopian rulers [now in office for 23 years] are painting a picture the outside world could not resist. Do you still not get it? Notice reporters Meseret and Aaron work for the ruling party [placed strategically to not raise suspicion].

  • Dawit

    I’ll be happy when the people who transported ad the poachers are in it.

  • Cat

    I don’t understand. If you actually care about elephants, and want to deter traffickers, take all of the ivory you seize and airdrop it all over the country. No one is going to go after a dangerous living animal when they can just walk around and find the stuff on the ground. It also spoils the market. Instead everyone is worsening this situation by making ivory ever more scarce. Destroying ivory sends entirely the wrong message, and isn’t effective.

  • julie

    Why do they destroy Ivory,it only makes it more a valuable commodity, and will not deter poachers.

  • Kate Watson

    I would love if they pushed stricter laws for wildlife traffickers, it is currently a monetary fine and should be jail time instead.

  • Dr. I. G. Samman

    It’s very sad to know that all those elephants had died for the cause of the Ivory trade. I really can’t understand why all the mentioned tones of confiscated Ivory were burned. It should of being used against the Ivory traders by flooding the Ivory market with it. As long as the ivory market is dry then the poaching and smuggling will continue. The confiscated Ivory should of being collected under a governmental umbrella such as “Ivory Nations Organization” to supply the Ivory market with what they need and use the money to fight the poachers with.

  • Ash H

    Human are the most cruel and cold animal out of all the animal. The kind peace hearted gesture we show now will not last forever. Eventually we will wipe everything.

  • JIM

    They have a poor understanding of economics. They just made the problem worse. By destroying ivory, they lessened the supply, which makes the value of ivory increase. It will now be more valuable. Poachers will now get more for ivory, making it more lucrative. If they really wanted to stop poaching, they should have sold it for a very low price. That would have decreased the value of ivory and poachers would get less for it. Maybe to the point that it would not be worth it for them and they would have found a different, more lucrative source of income.

  • Tekola Tessema

    I think the country generally lost two big resources, one the one which is burned and secondly which previously lost its live. Why don’t they panesh those who break the low?
    Let me ask one thing;
    Do you burn the money which is stolen from somebody, government or elsewhere to control thefts or corruption?

  • Tekola Tessema

    I think their aim is to join these ten countries but the country generally lost two big resources, one the one which is burned and secondly which previously lost its live. Why don’t they panesh those who break the low?
    Let me ask one thing;
    Do you burn the money which is stolen from somebody, government or elsewhere to control thefts or corruption?

  • amber

    That was a dumb mistake. All they did was increase the demand and desire for it now. Making it more desirable. SMH

  • Pat Goudey OBrien

    For those who somehow think this “reduced the supply and raised the demand” — did you think these countries would put that stuff out for sale again? That was tried, and it was a dismal failure!!

    From an article in Scientific American, Nov. 2013, about U.S. ivory destruction: “Experts from government and nongovernment organizations who spoke at the U.S. ivory crush event defended the decision to destroy the stockpile. Peter Knights of WildAid, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in San Francisco, observed that people who argue against the destruction of ivory stockpiles think that having a legal supply is the answer to the poaching problem. But attempts to flood the market with ivory in the past have had disastrous results, actually increasing poaching rather than curbing it. “I think we have to look at history and we have to learn this lesson,” he said. “People need to understand this is just as heinous a crime as consumption of heroin or something like that. We don’t put heroin back on the market when we seize it.”

  • Md. Mehedi Hasan

    Ivory is an asset for this community.The govt. should be more strict about it’s rule and law enforcement. Or this asset will gone by the traffickers.
    And another question is what the traffickers will do with this and the govt. not “ivory”?

  • Bastiaan

    STUPID TO BURN IT it will only make the demand higher prizes go up poachers have more reason to poach . should have brought it into the market !!!!

  • Laurylie Norman

    Severe international sanctions should be imposed against any country that is found to allow in any way the sale or use of Ivory for any reason, including historical artwork as it promotes the horrible death of elephants for their trunks, and gives desperate people an incentive to risk death and imprisonment along with sacrificing their own values and beliefs in an effort to secure the financial future of their families. If all countries would ban Ivory, especially in museums where it is glorified through art from many cultures and precious antiquities that are on display when not locked away in vaults. The magnificent elephants that inhabit the earth would not see the value of keeping these relics any more then I do. Would you appreciate the bones of their loved ones who were brutally murdered being displayed as works of Art? Not only China but other Asian countries glorify Ivory, I have for example heard my Japanese friends boast of the value of their precious Ivory pieces as well.

  • Aliwanga Benson

    Why the government can’t sell the ivory it will help some poor Ethiopian people, there are thousands in Ethiopians who don’t have access to clean water or food.A government full of fools will believe what the Europeans telling them to do, Africa is now their zoo where they control our culture our government our life.

  • malek

    Seriously!!!!!! Wt is the use? Burning? Cameon people; wd need to control it from the source burning the ivory doesn’t bring the dead elephants back, the govt better sell it and use the money to raise awareness! I think it’s awful to burn!!!!!!!!! Totally awful!!!!!!!

  • Jessica

    Everybody that’s upset about this for the “supply and demand reasons”, should also realize that there should be zero supply or demand. Putting it in the market makes no sense because it’s an illegal item. Destroying it is the right thing to do, it’s saying this has been gotten illegally and it has no value to trade, produce, or keep in our country. Contraband products don’t follow the rules of supply and demand as far as economics go.

  • Flora

    I’m crying to the heavens by reading that rediculous and evil trick! Put an end??? To what??? Elephant slaughter??? By raising the price of Ivory??? You eccept me to believe this??? What a shame National Geographic – I’m finished with you!

  • Hirut Tefefe

    Well done Ethiopia. Burning the ivory is the right way to go. If there is no supply there is no demand!! Selling the ivory and use it for poor people sounds reasonable but there is no guaranty that the money goes to the needy once or to protect the animals. If other governments join the ten countries above our grand kids have chances to see Elephants with their grace not only pictures.

  • Truneh

    I think it is a wise decision. It means there should be no market place for it and it is useless.
    If they sale it to some one to make ornaments out of it then indirectly they support ist illegal demand. There should never be a legal market for it. It should never be used to produce an item of any value. That makes it not only ilegal but also valueless. That contributes a lot to protect the animals.

  • jes

    I agree that burning it is the right thing to do. It is a ceremony to honor the elephants who lost their lives for the ivory. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

  • JIM

    Some of you are stating that it shouldn’t have been sold because it was confiscated contraband. I’m not sure where some of you are getting the fact that this was confiscated contraband. In the article it is referred to as the country’s “stockpile.” Doesn’t the word “stockpile” indicate that this was the government’s supply that they kept on hand? Nowhere in the article does it state that this was confiscated or contraband. My guess is that all of this ivory was acquired legally with the authorization of the government at some point in time.

    And for those of you who insist that this doesn’t affect the price that ivory will fetch, what type of economics are you using? You can say there “shouldn’t” be a demand for it, but there is. The supply is smaller now. The demand will either stay the same or possibly increase because people who desire it will want it more now that it is harder to acquire. The price/value of ivory will increase. When OPEC wants the price of oil to increase, they reduce production. Demand is the same, supply is smaller, price goes up. Period.

  • Matt Driscoll

    Seems like the 70+ tons of ivory you stupid f***s burned is a huge factor in why a technically renuable resource has had it’s price driven up. If you use profit off confiscated or “reclaimed” ivory you could somewhat saturate the market in the long run making the value drop immensely and using the profit to buy drones to fly over and protect these amazing animals but instead you keep that value up making sure the bribes park rangers take stay high. I thing this is a testament showing the value of ivory is going to stay to compete with gold, yet another destructive economic symbol. How much money is something worth until you realize it should have been priceless ?

  • Gutulo Belachew Gujubo

    I think nations has to be more serious in their legal femwork and in law inforcement to address the issue, and it also needs internationally binding treaties and political commitment from leaders. But if you do not have some long and practical mechanisms to control it, it is one way to hold and destroy the supply side at least in once national jurisdiction. It was good intension but wrong decision , it would have been good for me to reserve it in animal zoo’s or museums. Or it can be useful even for teaching purpose on awareness creation for the local community. But still do not agree with some rtionalities suggested by writer, Ethiopian is strong country and they do things for their own resoans not for the sack of joining or to be counted on the list of burners.

  • Eddie

    Good decision to burn the ivory!!! A legal trade was attempted in the past, pre-1989, and failed. There is too much corruption and no way to easily tell legal from illegal ivory. Demand is much too great to prevent poaching and to believe otherwise is naive. We need to destroy all stockpiles and ban all international and domestic ivory sales. When you see ivory-it is illegal!!!

  • kayla

    They burned the ivory to show that there will be zero tolerance the ivory was never supposed to be used to make man made arifacts …… U basically took it upon yourselves to say I can go kill an animal and leave there as if it had no meaning in life and just cut the only two parts u thought matter leaving behind a now innocent creature that new nothing but just live its own way to all you who don’t see the burning was a symbol and think it was a waste if ivory your just as ignorant as the poachers….. Every living thing has a right just because were advanced doesn’t make us the better species’ if anything were the ones killing off everything.

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