Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire Saturday to 105 tons of elephant ivory and more than 1 ton of rhino horn, believed to be the largest stockpile ever destroyed. The blazing stockpile, which would have been worth a fortune to smugglers, was meant to sent a message that trade in the animal parts must be stopped.
The animal parts should not have commercial value, Kenyatta said.
"A time has come when we must take a stand and the stand is clear ... Kenya is making a statement that for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants," he added.
The stacks of tusks represent more than 8,000 elephants and some 343 rhinos slaughtered for their ivory and horns, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.
In the 1970s, Africa had about 1.2 million elephants, but now has 400,000 to 450,000.
The country, along with allies including the African nation of Gabon, plans to push for an ivory trade ban later this year at the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species in South Africa.
"To all the poachers, to all the buyers, to all the traders, your days are numbered," said Gabon President Ali Bongo at the ivory burn. "We are going to put you out of business, so the best thing you can do is to go into retirement now."
Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, a California-based group working to combat trade in illegal wildlife products, said amassing stockpiles of ivory fuels speculation about possible future sales. Reserved ivory also is vulnerable to theft and must be guarded, costing money that could be used to prevent poaching.
“People don’t need ivory, elephants do, and we should just say we’re done with the ivory trade,” Knights said.
The poaching and killing of elephants has become a crisis in Kenya. Perhaps the smoldering pile of ashes will prove effective in overcoming the problem.