After protesters decided to set fire to roughly 105 tons of elephant ivory and 1.35 tons of rhinoceros horns in Nairobi National Park in Kenya, leaders in more than 30 African countries responded, including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who issued a call to ban all international trade on ivory and rhino horns.
The protest fire in April was reportedly to demonstrate that ivory has no value, except to elephants.
Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, backed the protest.
“Our philosophy has been to burn the entire stockpile, because this is one way of demonstrating to the world that if you offer trade in ivory, we give the misimpression that, actually, ivory is available and yet, it’s this very ivory that’s endangering our species,” she said, the Voice of America reported.
As tens of thousands of elephants have been killed in recent years for their ivory — largely due to the high demand from Asian markets — the recent “Great Elephant Census” showed a 30 percent decline in African savanna elephants between 2007 and 2014.
In a response to the census, the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, will kick off its annual meeting from Sept. 24-Oct. 5 in Johannesburg, where 183 country members will discuss elephant and rhino poaching.
While many African citizens support the proposed ban, others find it discomforting, citing a fear of increased black market sales and a waste of existing ivory and rhino stockpiles.
The countries of Namibia and Zimbabwe have officially requested to sell their stockpiles through the 1973 CITES treaty, with the hope of placing proceeds back into conservation efforts, said Zimbabwe finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.
“We have $9.6 billion worth of ivory in the country, sufficient to write off our debt,” Chinamasa said. “So this is the paradox of Africa — rich Africa, poor Africans. Because the policies are coming from outside, and imposed on us. They don’t have elephants, but they become members of CITES to ban and stop us from disposing of our own assets.”
Philip Muruthi, vice president of species conservation at the African Wildlife Foundation, said the very existence of the ivory market poses a threat to the animals, even with one-time sales and legally-obtained product.
“It is very, very hard to distinguish between legal and illegal ivory,” he said, VOA News reported. “And that means that having a legal supply of ivory in the market perpetuates the killing. And so, the cycle continues.”