LIGHTING A FIRE

For Africa's Threatened Wildlife

On 30 April, the government of Kenya made history with the largest ivory and rhino horn destruction the world has ever seen.

Over 100 tons of elephant ivory and 1 ton of rhino horn went up in smoke, representing almost the entirety of Kenya’s stockpiles.

The reason for the massive burn was to send a clear message to Africa and the world: ivory is only valuable on an elephant, rhino horn is only valuable on a rhino, these animals are worth more alive.

Poaching is at an all time high across the continent. Each year, roughly 30,000 elephants are killed for their ivory. That’s one every 15 minutes. At that rate, Africa’s elephant population (currently estimated at 450,000) could be entirely wiped out in the next two decades.

Rhinos are no better off. Last year marked the third year in a row that poachers killed over 1,000 of these iconic animals. With roughly 25,000 remaining, they too could be pushed to extinction within our lifetime.

Many have asked why the stockpiles were destroyed, rather than used to flood the market, which some argue would drive down the price of these goods and eliminate the profits that entice poachers and traffickers.

Yet we’ve seen first hand the complications that come with trying to regulate a legal trade in an endangered species whose parts are in high demand. For the past 20 years there has been an on-going trade experiment with ivory to see if a stable and sustainable market could be established. One-off sales of ivory stockpiles were permitted by CITES in 1999 and 2008.

The results of that experiment can be seen today. Elephant poaching levels are higher than ever and the trade in illegal ivory flourishes. These legal sales not only stimulated and legitimized demand, but provided cover for illegal ivory to enter the market under the guise of legal ivory, allowing poaching to come roaring back after a brief respite for Africa’s elephants.

The pyres that went up in smoke represented as many as 10,500 elephants and 318 rhinos.

On average, it is estimated that a single elephant can generate up to $1.6 million in tourism revenue over its lifetime, meaning poaching is taking a tremendous toll on Kenya’s economy.

Not only has it robbed the country of animals who play key ecological roles (elephants fell trees to create grasslands and disperse seeds to help new forests grow), but the elephants represented by that stockpile could have generated $16.8 billion for a country in great financial need.

That loss was underscored again and again by the burn’s theme: #WorthMoreAlive.

As Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, put it before lighting the fire for all the world to see, “The time has come when we must take a stand, and that stand is clear: For us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants.”

Thank you, Kenya, for demonstrating remarkable leadership in the fight to save our wildlife and wild lands. We hope leaders from across the continent are inspired by your actions, and move to destroy their stockpiles as well. Photography and videography by Peter Chira / AWF #LightAFire #StopTheTrade #Kenya #Africa #elephants #rhino #wildlife #animals #animalkingdom #conservation #conservationstory

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