Poachers and dealers take note: This is the message behind Kenya’s mass ivory burning

Kenya is protesting the continuous poaching of elephants and rhinoceros targeted for their tusks and horns through a mass burning of ivory and rhino horns scheduled to take place at the end of April. The event will mark the world’s biggest burning, with over 106 tonnes of ivory and 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn involved. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will lead the symbolic mass burning against poaching the country’s iconic species, while other African Heads-of-State, conservationists, and local and international celebrities will also be in attendance.

The decision by the Kenyan government to burn the ivory highlights the East African’s commitment to protect its national pride and heritage by putting an end to wildlife poaching and illegal wildlife trade, whatever it takes. This month’s scheduled mass burning will mark the second time that Kenya is taking such a drastic stand against poaching, as last year 15 tonnes of ivory were destroyed over the course of seven days.

Poaching is a national issue for Kenya which is as it threatens both the lives of the animals and the individuals delegated to protect them. Generally, elephants in Africa are increasingly faced with possible extinction judging by the rate at which they are being killed by poachers. Between 2010 and 2012, the continent lost about 100,000 elephants to poachers. And according to wildlife experts, a continuous loss of elephants would spell disaster for other wildlife species given the role that they play in the ecosystem.

However, mixed reactions trail the planned mass burning, as a number of individuals disagree over the point of the exercise. In their opinion, burning the ivory is wasteful and would only serve to drive the price of ivory tusks higher, and is therefore not a sustainable solution. Just as in the case of the one-year ban implemented by China (the biggest ivory dealers) on the import of ivory.

Sadly, the ‘solutions’ that they proffer for the most part – including selling the ivory instead – would simply make it difficult to totally eliminate the illegal and harmful trade of ivory, because the action makes them desirable still. Kenya is not alone in adopting this tactic of mass burning to fight poaching. Malaysia recently expressed its intolerance for poaching endangered species by burning 9.5 tonnes of ivory valued at $20 million which port officials had earlier confiscated.

At the basic level, burning confiscated ivory serves to discourage smugglers and dealers from partaking in the barbaric act of killing precious wildlife. But more than that, Kenya and other countries in the world that stand against poaching elephants and other wildlife for their parts, are sending a message that some things are worth more than money and can never be replaced by it.

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