Up in Smoke: 15 tonnes of ivory is destroyed
Today, in Republic of Congo’s capital Brazzaville, a 4.7 tonne pyre of ivory was burnt and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, another 10 tonnes was crushed.
These two countries join Belgium, Chad, China, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Hong Kong SAR, Kenya, Philippines, Zambia and the United States which have all now destroyed all or part of their ivory stockpile. It all started in July 1989, when the Kenyan government burnt 12 tonnes of ivory - its entire stockpile - heralding in a global ban on the international trade in elephant ivory.
More than 25 years later, destruction of government ivory stockpiles is still seen as a necessary part of the solution to elephant poaching which has been escalating over the past 8 years or so. Ivory crushes and burns have become not just practical solutions to the risks and costs of keeping ivory, but also important symbolic gestures and rallying calls to boost political support for elephant conservation and send a clear message to wildlife traffickers. Indeed, the wide spread of countries which have engaged in destruction events highlights the relevance of the issue to those beyond the conventional source and consumer nations.
Born Free was one of the organisations which argued for the ban on ivory all those years ago and since then has been helping to build the capacity of impacted countries to combat poaching and to improve their response to wildlife trafficking.
Naftali Honig is a Founding Director of the EAGLE Network, a series of projects across Africa whose aim is to strengthen wildlife law enforcement, and also heads up PALF (Project for the Application of Law for Fauna), the Congo counterpart of EAGLE. Naftali’s daily struggle is to find wildlife criminals and put them behind bars for as long as possible, all the while curbing their efforts to bypass justice through endemic corruption.
Naftali describes the ivory burn eloquently: "The burning of ivory represents an excellent symbol of the worthlessness of ivory unless it is still attached to beautiful, living elephants. As the Congo joins the other nations who have burnt their stockpiles, we are happy to see this bloody ivory destroyed as the contraband that it is."
However, as potent a symbol as it is, destroying contraband cannot replace, even in part, the vital work that needs to be done to disrupt the organised networks involved in ivory trafficking, as Naftali highlights: "At the same time, we are fully aware of the enormous strides that need to be made in fighting corruption before we can truly celebrate for the elephants. While traffickers roam free without fear of prosecution, they continue to sell ivory and there will always be a hunter willing to take the risk of poaching elephants to supply this demand”.
Born Free congratulates the Republic of Congo and United Arab Emirates on this auspicious day in their history, mourns the loss of countless elephants which the destroyed ivory represents and encourages them and the rest of the global community to redouble their efforts in the struggle to save these iconic species.