Sadly, ivory bonfires do nothing to protect elephants from poachers
Emmanuel Koro says Kenya’s high-profile burning of more than 100 tonnes of ivory and rhino horn runs counter to African conservation values, and there’s no evidence it is effective against poaching
Kenya’s biggest ivory and rhino horn burning on April 30 was done supposedly to make poachers aware that there is not enough ivory to trade and to stop the illegal trade. More than 100 tonnes of ivory, valued at over US$150 million, was destroyed.
Watching the spectacle on TV, my 12-year-old son asked an intelligent question that those who carried out the burning, and those who supported it, should answer: Why not sell the ivory and help stop rhino and elephant poaching, and develop the poor Kenyan villages?
Just who started and continues to sponsor such un-African “conservation” values and concepts? Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, his cabinet and the members of parliament owe the nation, and all African people, an explanation.
Since time immemorial, African people have utilised their wildlife to meet their socioeconomic needs. What would the African chiefs and kings who, before colonialism, were in charge of conserving wildlife and all plant and animal species say about Kenya’s seemingly endless rituals to “conserve” elephants and rhino by burning stockpiled rhino horns and ivory?
When such rituals are performed, invariably the names of wealthy Western countries’ movie stars and businesspeople are listed among the guests invited to witness this “conservation” spectacle. Are they the ones influencing Kenya’s decision and also compensating it? Sadly, the people behind such compensation funds, if they exist, and their use remain a secret.
Kenya has failed to stop rhino and elephant poaching. Has it also failed to perform the easier task of protecting its stockpiled ivory and rhino horn, where burning remains a last resort? Poachers do not steal the stockpiled ivory that Kenya keeps under 24-hour security. They get ivory and rhino horn by killing rhinos and elephants in the national parks and game reserves. So how does burning ivory and rhino horn that is already protected help stop poaching?
Western animal rights groups feared that if the stockpiled ivory and rhino horn are not destroyed, it might lead to Kenya requesting a one-off sale in the future.
While there is no notable scientific evidence to show burning ivory ever resulted in a reduction in poaching levels, Western animal rights groups continue to claim that it has. But this costly experiment is not working for Kenya.
Meanwhile, some conservationists say destroying so much of a rare commodity could increase its value and encourage more poaching, rather than stem it.
Other African countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe that collectively have the largest elephant population in the world, and also without doubt the largest stockpiles of ivory and rhino horn, do not agree with the burning policy.
They believe, instead, that a strictly controlled trade in these products – as granted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna – is possible at an appropriate time in the future. They also argue that burning ivory and rhino horn is against the principles of sustainable development. They want elephant and rhino products to benefit conservation of these animals.
That is why Botswana’s president, Ian Khama, should be applauded for having refused to attend Kenya’s burning stunt that no doubt also left a big carbon footprint.
African people do not, and will never, support the burning of rhino horn and ivory.
Emmanuel Koro is an environment and development journalist based in Johannesburg