Kenya Burns Ivory, Sends Message to the World

Thu, 2011-07-21 13:06 by hcroze · Forum/category:
Kibaki lights pyre Ivory Burning Watching it burn ATE Team at the burning

Elephant ivory is worthless and should only be worn by elephants -- That was the strong message sent by Kenya to the world when President Mwai Kibaki set light to nearly 5 tones of contraband ivory in Tsavo West National Park on 20 July 2011.

The conflagration marked the 22nd anniversary of a massive ivory burning by Kenya in 1989 which aimed to bring attention to the plight of elephants in preparation for the meeting of the party members of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in October of that year. At that meeting a ban on international trade in ivory was passed. The ban went into effect in January 1990. Since then, Kenya's elephants have recovered from the poaching of the 1970s from 16,000 to 37,000.

Africa's elephants are still down in total from an estimated at 1.3 million in 1979 to less than 600,000 in 1989. Today there may be as few as 400,000. And the threat to their survival is escalating as nearly 40,000 are currently being killed every year, largely to supply a growing demand for ivory among the newly-monied middle class in the Far East.

The moving ivory-burning event took place under the auspices of the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora, an African-led effort to curb cross-boundary illicit trade.

The assembled dignitaries made significant remarks concerning commitment and progress.


The Permanent Secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, Mr. M. Wa-Mwachai (left), stressed that Kenya was supporting the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) with key technical interventions: GSM collaring of elephants and other wildlife to define critical corridors and provide early warning of human-wildlife conflict; new remote sensing techniques to detect habitat loss and forest fires; and DNA analysis to determine origin of seized wildlife contraband.


The Director of Kenya Wildlife Services, Mr. Julius Kipng'etich (right), expressed gratitude to the LATF for helping to show that ivory has no value except in its natural habitat. That message must be conveyed to China's new rich middle class.


Mr. Bonaventure Ebayi (left), Director of the Lusaka Agreement Task Force urged other African countries to join the Agreement, particularly in light of the cross-boarder nature of most of the region's wildlife issues.


Kenya's Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Hon. Dr. Noah Wekesa (right), pointed to the importance of trans-boundary wildlife agreements, observing that an elephant may be Kenya's today, but Tanzania's tomorrow. He called for early enactment of Kenya's new wildlife bill in order to ensure that today's absurdly low penalties were increased to befit the magnetude of wildlife crimes.


The Minister for Tourism, Hon. Mr. Najib Balala (left), noted that the burning of KES 1.5 Bn [$16m] worth of ivory was a ringingly clear statement by a poor country about its commitment to the protection of the economical foundation of its tourism industry. He called for greater efforts to educate the growing market in China on the evils of ivory consumption.


Ugandan Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Heritage, Hon. Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu (right), on behalf of the Lusaka Agreement Governing Council, said the days of poachers were numbered. Elephants, he said, were the flagship species of Africa's wildlife heritage. He called for more countries to join the Agreement's core seven and thanked representatives of governments, NGOs, businesses, the diplomatic corps and the press for support. He conveyed the greetings of H.E. President Yawori Museveni, noting the occasion had powerful endorsement at presidential level.


H.E. President Mwai Kibaki (left) then took to the podium and declared that wildlife resources play a key role in development and stressed that Kenya was committed to the war against wildlife crime. He declared duly launched the first ever African Elephant Law Enforcement Day, including a Special Account and a Wildlife Enforcement Monitoring System in support of the African Elephant Action Plan. He then proceeded to the site of the burning to unveil a commemorative plaque and light the pyre.


Kuki Gallmann (right), tireless wildlife campaigner and chair of the the Gallmann Memorial Foundation, was one of the many old friends and colleagues present, such as Ian Douglas-Hamiliton and Daphne Sheldrick. Kuki brought her experience from the previous ivory burning and arranged the special pyrotechnics -- ivory is very difficult to burn.

In truth, it was a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, the commitment of powerful political figures to the conservation of the wildlife resource was stirring. On the other, the pall of smoke from the pyre of tusks that would have been better viewed on living elephants reminded us that the struggle is far from over.

You can see Kenya's Citizen TV's coverage of the event by clicking here. There's also a glimpse of the ATE team listening carefully to President Kibaki's words. Many other news agencies have covered the event. We shall post some video clips soon. Stay tuned …

[First, second and fourth images above © H. Croze, ATE; third image © V. Fishlock, ATE. The image of the ATE team includes, left to right, Katito Sayialel, Cynthia Moss, Purity Waweru, Norah Njiraini, Soila Sayialel, Vicki Fishlock; Harvey Croze, Robert Ntawuasa.]