The largest ever ivory burn recently took place in Kenya, making headlines around the world.
The destruction of 105 tons of elephant ivory and 1.35 tons of rhino horn represented thousands of dead elephants and rhinos which had been poached just for their tusks and horns.
They’re used to make trinkets no one needs or to be used in traditional medicines in Asia which have no proven health benefits.
Even more shocking, this represents just a tiny fraction of the poaching epidemic which is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other species.
Why burn ivory?
While some may question how destroying ivory is helping to tackle this crisis, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is in no doubt about the importance of preventing stockpiled ivory from reaching the marketplace, where it can provide a smokescreen for further sales of illegal ivory from poached animals.
When you take into account that an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory, with poaching threatening to wipe out a fifth of Africa’s elephants over the next decade, it is vital we act now to reduce demand for ivory through education in consumer countries, particularly China and elsewhere in Asia, as well as tackling the poaching crisis on the ground, increasing enforcement and deterrents and protecting habitats. The current killing rate could be as high as 50,000 elephants poached for their ivory each year.
Azzedine Downes, President and CEO of IFAW, attended the historic ivory burn in Kenya. He said: ‘The ivory and rhino horn disposal we have witnessed is truly a remarkable event in the continued fight against ivory and rhino horn trafficking. By destroying the largest ivory stockpile, Kenya has demonstrated that the only valuable ivory and rhino horn is on a live animal.’
Where else has ivory been burned?
Since 2011, more than 100 tons of ivory have been destroyed by 18 countries: Belgium, Cameroon, Chad, China (including Hong Kong), The Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mozambique, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, UAE and the US.
Despite these victories, ivory trade is pushing populations of endangered elephants towards extinction. Ivory seizures continue to increase with 24.3 tons in 2011, 30 tons in 2012, 41.5 tons in 2013, 17. 8 tons seized between January and August 2014 and 32 tons in 2015.
Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and is coveted as ‘white gold’. Poaching is spreading primarily because of increased demand for illegal ivory in rapidly growing economies of China, and also Thailand, as well as continued demand in the US and Europe.
What are the consequences of trading ivory?
Buying ivory can also help bankroll criminal syndicates; illegal drugs, weapons, human trafficking and ivory trade are intertwined. Law enforcement officials say organized crime has increasingly moved into the illegal ivory market.
Only well-oiled international enterprises – with the help of corrupt officials – can move hundreds of kilos of tusks around the globe with relative impunity.
As one of the world’s most lucrative criminal activities, valued at US$19 billion (£13b, €16b) annually, illegal wildlife trade ranks among the most damaging and dangerous global crimes.
Amid all the statistics about trade and finance, it is important to remember that every piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant. Elephant poaching is a cruel and violent crime which usually results in a long and painful death for the victim.
Many poachers use weapons designed to kill an 80-kilo human. Given that an adult bull elephant can weigh up to 6,000 kilos, it takes a lot of bullets and a very long time for an elephant to die.
Elephants are intelligent, social creatures that mourn their dead and keep week-long vigils over fallen family members. Research has shown the effects of poaching extend to survivors and wider elephant society, which suffers long-term emotional and social distress.
Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: ‘Anyone who has witnessed the aftermath of elephant poaching, seeing the pain of traumatized orphans left behind, will realise the huge impact on elephant survivors, not to mention the astonishing rate at which elephants are disappearing.
‘We can all make a difference, simply by avoiding buying ivory or other trinkets and souvenirs made from threatened species – if we don’t buy, they don’t die. None of us want to imagine a future without elephants, yet each of us has a part to play in protecting our threatened wildlife for future generations.’
To find out more about IFAW’s work to protect elephants and other animals, or to lend your support, visit ifaw.org.