Burning Tusks: ‘Ivory is Worthless Unless It Is On Elephants’

SLIDESHOW: Alexander Rhodes: “Ivory stockpiles undermine the fight against illegal wildlife trade. They incite corruption, are expensive to secure and risk the lives of those tasked with guarding them.”

Burning stockpiles of ivory is seen as a key route to undermining an illegal trade, according to the President of Kenya.

What is the link between Cara Delevingne and clouds of heavy smoke hovering over stockpiles of Kenyan ivory burning bright? Elephants, and, most importantly, their tusks.

The top model bears a t-shirt with a massive bull for the I’m Not a Trophy campaign. She lends her looks to relay a key message: “The Earth has lost half of its wildlife over the past 40 years.” On the other hand, the organisation Stop Ivory reports from an incredible site: beautifully stacked in 11 individual pyres that resemble traditional huts, illegal stockpiles of ivory were reduced to ashes back in Kenya in April 2016. The message sent to the world was loud and clear: “Countries that hoard ivory stocks are speculators on an evil, illegal commodity,” said Richard Leakey, chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service. President Kenyatta of Kenya added: “To lose our elephants would be to lose a key part of our heritage, and we quite simply will not allow it. We, Kenyans, will not be the Africans who stood by as that happened; for us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants.”

Yet, if Kenya’s burn was by far the largest in history, it only represented five percent of what is currently held in government stockpiles across Africa. “The time for a complete ivory ban has long come,” says Alexander Rhodes, CEO of Stop Ivory. The British organisation spent US$845,000 in 2015 to implement and achieve the objectives of the African-led Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI). “Our goal is to prevent ivory leaking into the black market, improve national governance and management processes; in parallel, we intend to develop national elephant action plans, enforce
 and prosecute laws, and implement identified priority actions to stop the illegal trade of ivory,” adds Rhodes. “We need to protect elephants and communities. The growth of the EPI is the only way forward.”

On a day-to-day basis, far from the political realm, ex-Wilderness Safaris executive Zimbabwean Andy Egginton and his wife Sylvie Pons, both co-founders of travel agency Makila, act as shareholders of a camp in Hwange National Park. They work with local communities to protect this remote part of the park from poachers. Egginton says: “The blunt truth is that the value of African animals remains the greatest on the planet due to the very nature of their skin and horns, their sheer size and the mystique behind them. They symbolise courage and virility; they are simply under threat because they are highly profitable.” As most trophies go to China and Vietnam, Egginton argues that the problem needs to be solved politically. And for that to happen, corruption should be placed under tight scrutiny.

Most would argue that it is indeed the presence of a thriving black market that pushes the value of ivory and fosters poaching on a large scale. The same comment goes for rhino horns, favoured by the Chinese market. For decades, it was thought that confiscating and seizing ivory was an adapted response to stop poaching. Yet, Rhodes thinks the opposite: “Ivory stockpiles undermine the fight against illegal wildlife trade. They incite corruption, are expensive to secure and risk the lives of those tasked with guarding them.” Systematically destroying ivory is a key step towards success, one that the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) has embraced. The organisation requires that governments manage their ivory stockpiles and report them annually. “Inventory is a critical precursor to destruction, providing confidence to 
the public that all ivory is accounted for,” Graham Simmons, one of Wilderness Safaris’ marketing directors, explains.

While Kenya was burning some of its stockpiles, in parallel, the US was also disposing of one ton of ivory: “Today’s ivory crush sends a message to the world. We’re not only crushing ivory, we’re crushing the ivory market,” said Sally Jewell, US secretary of the interior.“There’s a passing of judgment from some that we’re doing the wrong thing, because Kenya is a poor country, and we could use the US$150 million that they claim the ivory is worth to develop our nation,” President Kenyatta explained. “But I would rather wait for the judgement of future generations, who I am sure will appreciate the decision we have taken today.”

www.stopivory.org

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SLIDESHOW: Alexander Rhodes: “Ivory stockpiles undermine the fight against illegal wildlife trade. They incite corruption, are expensive to secure and risk the lives of those tasked with guarding them.”