Several hundred people gathered in Nairobi National Park Saturday to watch Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to 105 tons of elephant tusks and more than a ton of rhinoceros horns.
The crowd, among them leaders of other African nations, stood in silence as they watched the ivory, worth about $150 million, go up in smoke. It was the first such burning to take place since 1989 — part of Kenya’s battle against poachers.
According to the African Wildlife Foundation, about 35,000 elephants were killed in Africa last year from an African elephant population of 400,000 to 500,000.
The situation is worse for rhinoceroses. Since 1960, almost 98 percent of the continent’s black rhinoceroses have been killed.
A kilogram of elephant ivory is worth about $1,000 on the black market, according to the organization Pro Wildlife. Rhino horn goes for 50 times that. China is the main market.
Nature conservation organizations have voiced their support for the destruction of the stockpiles. “Storing the confiscated tusks is laborious and expensive,” said Pro Wildlife’s Daniela Freyer.
The Kenyan government has long sought a global ban on the trade, which will again come up for discussion at a conference of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, that starts in Johannesburg in September.
Most countries banned trading in ivory in the 1980s, but there are exceptions. China and Japan are permitted to buy stocks under eased of restrictions, Freyer saids.
The claim rings true for the popular East African tourist destination, which earned about $2.2 billion ––almost 4 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product –– from tourism last year, according to the World Tourism Organization.
More than 9 percent of Kenya’s population of 46 million work in the tourism sector, with the numbers rising by the year. Tourists are drawn to the country by miles of sandy beaches on the Indian Ocean and the game safaris in the interior.
Gavin Shire of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said Kenyan authorities need to ensure that the ivory is destroyed in a way that makes it unsuitable for the black market.
“It has to be cut up and then burned at a high temperature,” Shire said.