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SUMMARY BASED ON THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Written by Paula Kahumbu with Andrew Halliday for The Guardian

On 30 April 2016 Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will set fire to 105 tonnes of ivory in Nairobi National Park, and British newspaper, The Guardian, has recently published an interesting article by Paula Kahumbu and Andrew Halliday explaining why they think it’s the right thing to do. 

Stacks of 105 tonnes of ivory in Nairobi National Park, Kenya. On 30 April Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will set fire to the ivory in a public ceremony in order to put it out of economic use. ©Kenya Wildlife Service
Stacks of 105 tonnes of ivory in Nairobi National Park, Kenya. On 30 April Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will set fire to the ivory in a public ceremony in order to put it out of economic use. ©Kenya Wildlife Service

By burning almost its entire ivory stockpile, Kenya is sending out the message that it will never benefit from illegal ivory captured from poachers. Here the writers summarise four of the most frequent arguments being made against the burn and their explanations why they feel that these are wrong.

Argument 1: It’s a waste

For some people, burning valuable ivory doesn’t make any sense as they feel that the proceeds from sales could be used to fund wildlife conservation or support local development initiatives. 

However, supporters of this viewpoint must recognise that the ivory could not be sold unless they expect the Kenyan government to enter the black market. Ivory sales are illegal under the terms of CITES to which Kenya is a signatory.

According to the article: “The economic value of elephants, with their ivory attached, is enormous. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, leisure tourism generated KSh238 billion for the Kenyan economy in 2014, while more than half a million people are employed, directly or indirectly, by the tourism sector. These benefits are sustainable, providing we safeguard our tourism attractions, including elephants and the natural ecosystems they help to maintain. By contrast, the value of all the ivory to be burned next week has been estimated at KSh3 billion, at black market prices.”

Not to forget the incalculable non-economic value of elephants as part of the Kenyan national identity, and as a source of inspiration and delight.

Argument 2: It won’t work

Many argue that a better alternative would be to release the ivory onto the market to drive down the price and put the poachers and traffickers out of business.

However, lowering the price of a product won’t necessarily put anyone out of business but could rather stimulate demand and increase the volume of sales – especially as surveys indicate that 80% of the 1.37 billion people in China would like to own ivory. Mobile phones are a good example of how producers reduced prices to tap into vast markets successfully.

The author of the article believes that there is only one way to save Africa’s elephants, which is to remove ivory from the market by attaching a stigma to the product and by making it illegal.

Argument 3: It’s a trick

Some people have questioned whether the event is staged to make the ivory “disappear” into the hands of corrupt officials.

However, Kenya is an expert in incinerating ivory and has the technology to do so – notably 10 tonnes of firewood and more than 10,000 litres of fuel will be used on 30 April.

Burning the ivory is also the only really secure way to keep it out of the hands of corrupt officials for good. As the author explains: “If all trade in ivory is banned, authorities will know that any ivory found on sale is illegal. It will make the job of cracking down on the ivory traffickers much easier.”

Argument 4: It’s foreign interference 

Some commentators believe the ivory burn to be a result of outside foreign pressure.

This argument is considered to be far from the truth as Kenyans paved the way for ivory burning when President Moi lit the first bonfire in 1989, which incited support for the ivory trade ban that was approved by CITES later in the year.

The author concludes that “by burning its ivory stockpiles now, Kenya is once again showing leadership and raising the bar for other countries. The ivory burn sends a clear message: if we are serious about saving Africa’s elephants, partial measures are simply not enough.”

This burn is felt to be an important part of a wider conservation strategy to eliminate the demand for ivory and place value on living elephants instead.

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