Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Elephant ivory worth £10m torched

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants poses in front of the confiscated ivory (AP)
Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants poses in front of the confiscated ivory (AP)

Kenya's president set fire to elephant ivory worth £10 million on Wednesday, in a bid to focus attention on a rising tide of poaching deaths.

The bright orange flame that raced through the fuel-laden pile jumped out and nearly bit President Mwai Kibaki as he lit the mound of 335 confiscated ivory tusks and 41,000 trinkets.

"Through the disposal of contraband ivory, we seek to formally demonstrate to the world our determination to eliminate all forms of illegal trade in ivory," Kibaki told several hundred people at a rural Kenya Wildlife Service training facility in south-eastern Kenya.

"We must all appreciate the negative effects of illegal trade to our national economies. We cannot afford to sit back and allow criminal networks to destroy our common future."

Kenyan officials first set fire to a mound of ivory in 1989, a desperate call-to-action to wake the world to a poaching crisis that sent Africa's elephant populations plummeting.

Elephant numbers are much healthier today, but elephant advocates say a second elephant crisis is coming, as China's middle class seeks to satisfy its ivory appetite.

The group Save The Elephants tracks elephant news from around the world, and cited newspaper headlines from last week that documented elephant-related busts in Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Group founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton said he hopes people see Kenya's latest ivory burn as another warning that elephants are again being hunted. He said the economic loss from the ivory burning was part of the message: "This is a clear signal that it's worth a lot more money than you could get on the market. We have to stop the buying if we want to stop the killing. I'm not totally pessimistic. I think the Chinese can be converted."

A global ban on the ivory trade in 1989 briefly halted the elephants' demise. But the ban's initial success has been undermined by Asia's booming demand and increasing human-elephant conflicts as people encroach on animals' land.

Africa had 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s but today has only 500,000. Kenya has 37,000 elephants, up from the 16,000 it had at the height of the crisis in 1989 but far below the country's peak.

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