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Ivory worth more on a living elephant

Press AssociationPress Association 8/05/2016 Sarah Marshall

A gathering of 8000 elephants would certainly be a sight to behold, but in Nairobi last month such a spectacle had even greater poignancy.

Amassed in 11 three-metre high pyres, 105 tonnes of ivory and 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn were set alight as part of the biggest confiscated stockpile burning, sending a message to the world that the poaching of elephants and rhino in Africa must end.

Both species are key attractions for tourists on safari, and the event demonstrates Kenya is stepping up the fight to safeguard arguably its greatest assets.

It's hoped the burning will focus attention on the crisis ahead of September's CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting in Johannesburg, with President Kenyatta of Kenya and President Bongo of Gabon calling for a total ban on the ivory trade.

"This burn sent a very strong message to the world that Kenya (and many of the other African range states) see no value in ivory now or in the future," says Charlie Mayhew, founder of non-profit organisation Tusk Trust, who support numerous conservation and community projects in Africa.

"Ivory is worthless unless it is on a living elephant."

Some critics have argued that removing such a large quantity of ivory from the market may actually drive up prices, but Richard Leakey, Kenya Wildlife Service Chairman and a renowned conservationist, believes the opposite is true.

Speaking at the burn ceremony, he told the crowd: "We did it before and prices went from $300 down to $5 within three months of that fire."

Others have suggested the ivory, worth an estimated $82 million on the black market, should have been sold to raise funds for investing in conservation.

Charlie Mayhew disagrees.

"This is an outdated view held by people who seem to ignore the fact that living elephants not only represent Africa's natural heritage, but a valuable natural endowment that attracts tourism and generates significant income and employment on a day-by-day, month-by-month basis."

Estimates suggest up to 35,000 elephants have been poached annually since 2010, and last year's CITES MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) report declared the species was suffering continued decline.

But amid the sadness, there are stories of success.

"There has been a 79 per cent reduction in elephant poaching in north Kenya over the last two years," says Sarah Watson, Tusk director of operations, who attended the burn ceremony.

"That is purely through investment into rangers on the ground, training, intelligence, equipment and communications, which all lead to a co-ordinated approach to anti-poaching."

Last year Kenyan Edward Ndiritu was awarded the inaugural Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award by Prince William for his work in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where there are also several safari lodges.

Watson and Mayhew agree tourists can play an important role in safeguarding the future of elephants, by spending money wisely and investing in projects where conservation is paramount.

"A dead elephant and its ivory represent the one-off criminal exploitation of an animal that will bring no further benefit to Africa," says Mayhew. "Once they are gone, they are gone forever. There should be no doubt that elephants are worth more alive."

For more information on the work of Tusk, visit

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