More than 100 tonnes of ivory is to be set ablaze in Kenya on Saturday, the largest ever such fire, in a bid to shock the world into protecting the future of endangered elephants.
Eleven giant pyres of tusks from around 6,000 elephants, a pile seven times the size of any burned previously, was due to be lit by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, at a ceremony in Nairobi national park.
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. The move has been supported by a range of conservation groups.
On the bonfire were tusks, ivory sculptures and rhino horn confiscated by the Kenyan authorities and said to be worth up to $105m (£82m) on the black market.
The ceremony is designed to highlight the decline in Africa’s wild elephant population and the impact of poaching, with more than 30,000 killed each year for their tusks.
Speaking on Friday, Kenyatta said: “The future of the African elephant and rhino is far from secure so long as demand for their products continues to exist.” He will press for a ban at an international wildlife trade meeting in South Africa in September.
Speaking ahead of the ceremony to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the director of the Kenya wildlife service, Kitili Mbathi, said: “The reason is to make a statement to the world that we are committed to conservation, and to underline the fact that we don’t believe that there ought to be any value attributed to ivory and rhino horn but on elephants and rhinos.”
The move has not, however, been universally welcomed. Mike Norton-Griffiths, an environmental economist, told Today : “I am very worried about it. I think it’s almost reckless of the Kenyans. The problem is it’s a very large burn of ivory, 5% of the global stocks of ivory, and when you take 5% of stocks out of a market like this, a resource market, something is going to happen.
“The traders will see 5% less ivory available to be released to them. Their response will be: ‘They’re taking this seriously, they’re never going to release this ivory to us, we must go and collect more from elephants.’”
Campaigners are keen for investment to reduce costs and increase benefits for conserving elephants, and global efforts to cut the demand for ivory products.