On Saturday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta led the burning of 105 metric tons of ivory in Nairobi.
The message? That unless it’s on an elephant, ivory is worthless and Kenya is committed to stopping illegal wildlife trade that is devastating Kenya’s breathtaking natural heritage. Across Africa, more than 30,000 elephants are killed for their ivory every year (BBC). The massive piles of recovered ivory burned on Saturday represent 6,000-7,000 dead elephants.
There were mixed opinions across the media and social networks following the burning. Some commended the African leaders present for taking such a bold stand against poachers, while other argued that destroying the ivory will only make it rarer and more expensive, ultimately raising the demand for poached ivory.
While I’d have to do more research to form my own opinion on the event, I will say that I am glad that wildlife trade and trafficking has been increasingly condemned and discussed over the last few years. In February, the European Commission has created an EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking to reduce illegal trade within the European Union. In January U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell helped to solidify an official partnership with Kenya to stop trafficking between the two countries. And recently, major airlines have started to refuse to transport hunting trophies, especially those of protected species.
The World Wildlife Fund cites illegal wildlife trade and trafficking as the second-most dire threat to overall species survival (habitat destruction is the greatest threat). I can only hope that the recent attention given to illegal trafficking might prove to be a major blow to the industry.
Why am I talking about poaching and wildlife trade on a hyena blog? Well, when I read about the ivory burning in Nairobi, I remembered that we are living and working in a national park where poaching occurs. Often, news stories seem distant and disconnected from our daily lives, but in this case, the rangers we pass and wave to each day have caught and arrested poachers. This news story was actually quite relevant to our lives here in Kenya.
To be clear, we have never seen a poacher or evidence of poaching during our year here, and the guys tell me that poaching has been significantly reduced over the last decade thanks to the valiant efforts of the Mara Conservancy and the rangers. But it does happen. We’ve heard stories of poachers being caught with hippo meat, trying to take it Tanzania to sell where bush meat is legal (it’s not in Kenya), and the rangers removed the tusks of an elephant skull almost immediately after the hyenas left the carcass alone (stumbling away fat and happy, of course!).
Watching elephants graze, somehow still graceful despite their enormity, I am thankful and relieved there are so many local, national, and global efforts to slow and stop wildlife trafficking. For a world without elephants – or lions, leopards, or rhinos – would be a lesser one.
Gettleman, J. (April 20, 2016). Kenya burns elephant ivory worth $105 million to defy poachers. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/world/africa/kenya-burns-poached-elephant-ivory-uhuru-kenyatta.html?_r=1.
Kershaw, J. (2016) Secretary Jewell announces new partnership with Kenya to combat wildlife trafficking. Retrieved from https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-jewell-announces-new-partnership-kenya-combat-wildlife-trafficking.
Leithead, A. (April 30, 2016). Elephant summit: Kenya sets fire to huge ivory stockpile. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-36176756.
Mathewson, S. (August 21, 2015). Airlines ban hunting “trophies” onboard. Retrieved from http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/16201/20150821/airlines-ban-hunting-trophies-onboard.htm.
The EU approach to combat wildlife trafficking. (2016). Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/trafficking_en.htm.