On April 29th, 2016, Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, set fire to 0ver 106 tons of confiscated, poached elephant tusks and rhino horns. It’s estimated that the ivory from as many as 6500 elephants and 450 rhinos went up in flames that night, marking the largest ivory burning in recorded history. Kenyatta’s reason for burning this government-seized ivory was simply to send the message that “for [them], ivory is worthless unless it’s on [their] elephants.”
Ivory burnings have become a more common occurrence in recent years as governments attempt to fight the “poaching crisis” that’s partially responsible for the endangerment of African and Asian elephants as well as many species of rhinos. 27,000 elephants are killed annually for their ivory, which has caused the population to drop by 8% a year, and yet in the midst of this, countries are entertaining the possibility of removing the ban on ivory trade that has been in place since 1989. The logic behind this is that legal ivory trade could be regulated, as opposed to the anything-goes, black market ivory poaching that occurs today. Regulations could end up saving elephants that may have otherwise been killed by grizzly poaching methods.
Countries also have their eyes set on the additional income they could make by exporting ivory. Many ivory rich countries, such as Namibia and Zimbabwe are extremely poor and could be vastly improved by legalizing the multimillion dollar industry.
Unfortunately for the elephants, however, a recent study has shown that legalizing poaching would accelerate elephant extinction, despite the pro-ivory argument. Removing the ban on ivory would also remove the shame of buying ivory, which would cause the demand to increase, thus forcing the supply to increase. Pro-ivory lobbyists argue that there is enough ivory in government seized caches and on naturally killed carcasses to satisfy the demand, but projections of the increased demand in ivory show that people would have to resort to wide-scale elephant hunting in order to quench the ivory thirst. If we want to keep elephants around, leaders are gonna have to start fighting poaching more forcibly than just burning ivory.