March 2016

Elephant Conservation in Kenya

Press secretary at Animat Habitat

2016 Ivory Burn, Kenya

Nairobi—In April, the President of Gabon, together with the President of Kenya, set fire to 105 tons of elephant ivory and more than 1 ton of rhino horn in a dramatic statement against the trade in ivory and products from endangered species. This is believed to be the largest stockpile ever destroyed. The conservationists who gathered from across the world to bear witness to the event describe pyres that billowed thick plumes of white smoke over yellow flames that consumed the ivory. This was ignited by about twenty thousand litres of jet fuel and oxygen. It was not known how long the burn would last because the burning of such a quantity was unprecedented. The stacks of tusks represented more than six-thousand seven-hundred (6,700) elephants killed for their ivory and three-hundred and forty (340) rhinos killed for their horns, plus endangered animal hides and skins and so on, sandalwood seizures and sacks full of Prunus Africana bark. [1]

A time has come when we must take a stand and the stand is clear. […] Kenya is making a statement that for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants. This will send an absolutely clear message that the trade in ivory must come to an end and our elephants must be protected. I trust that the world will join us to end the horrible suffering of our herds and save our elephants for future generations.
— Uhuru Kenyatta. (2016) Presidential address. Nairobi, Kenya

‘KWS ranger stands guard in Nairobi National Park’, 2016

With this act, Kenya has demonstrated to the world at large that the cache was destroyed and not pilfered back into the black market. This decision has reaffirmed a commitment to protect the irreplaceable wildlife in Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was joined by other African leaders and foreign officials, has demanded a total ban on the ivory trade to protect the future of wild elephants on the continent.

‘Ivory Burn’, Kenya, 2016

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) director general Kitili Mbathi said, “We do not believe there is any intrinsic value in ivory, and therefore we are going to burn all our stockpiles and demonstrate to the world that ivory is only valuable on elephants”. KWS chairman and renowned paleoanthropologist and conservationist, Richard Leakey, said the burning of the ivory should encourage African countries to support a ban on ivory trade: “We will burn ivory and we hope every country in the globe will support Kenya and say never again should we trade ivory”. Kenyatta said that Kenya will push for the total ban on trade in ivory at the 17th meeting of CITES, to be held in South Africa later this year.

Recognizing that wild fauna and flora in their many beautiful and varied forms are an irreplaceable part of the natural systems of the earth which must be protected for this and the generations to come.
— Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. (CITES, March 1973) Preamble.

Kenya decided to destroy the ivory instead of selling it for an estimated one-hundred and fifty (150) million U.S. dollars. The Kenyan ivory pyres represented about five per cent of global ivory stores. Some critics suggested that the money raised from the ivory sales could be used to develop Kenya and protect wildlife. Some said destroying so much of a rare commodity could increase its value and encourage more poaching rather than less. Others said that the burning would not end the killing of elephants because international gangs take advantage of Kenya's porous borders and corruption to continue the illegal trade, with the main trafficking route to Asia being through the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Kenyatta wants to make the point very clear that ivory should not have any commercial value. Before igniting the first pyre, Kenyatta made the statement:

The height of the pile of ivory before us marks the strength of our resolve.

No-one, and I repeat no-one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death of our elephants and death of our natural heritage.

1 Zane, D. ‘Kenya's ivory inferno: Does burning elephant tusks destroy them?’ BBC News, 29 April 2016. Website Link

Warning: the video includes graphic images.

− Close: VICE News Elephant Poachers in Kenya (2013)

A Direct Response

The campaign Hands Off Our Elephants was launched in July 2013 by Paula Kahumbu with her wildlife conservation organization Wildlife Direct. The campaign partnered with civil society, corporations, government agencies and other conservation organizations to unify a nation against its poaching crisis. Margaret Kenyatta, the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, had become a public patron of the campaign. Dr Paula Kahumbu and Hands Off Our Elephants had generated unprecedented awareness and support for wildlife conservation in Kenya. This ivory burn was a political response to that popular support.

Hands Off Our Elephants © Wildlife Direct [, recolored]


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