Ivory Stockpile Destruction is the Only Solution

Burning Ivory, Kenya 2011

In 1989 the Kenyan government burnt 12 tonnes of ivory - its entire stockpile - heralding in an international ban on ivory trade.  In response to escalating levels of elephant poaching and illegal trade in ivory since 2008, destruction is being increasingly accepted as the only viable long term solution to the problem of the ever increasing government-owned ivory stockpiles.  

Here’s why:

1. Seized ivory cannot be legally sold, as per CITES regulations. This is consistent with procedures relating to other seized illegal products such as drugs, which are regularly destroyed.

2. Keeping stockpiles secure requires a huge financial investment. In many countries these resources are very limited and could instead be funding desperately needed activities such as elephant protection in the field.

3. It is not uncommon for stockpiled ivory to leak into the illegal supply chain, a process aided by corruption.

4. Any future legal sales of ivory would result in more poaching. Governments purchasing ivory can easily manipulate the selling price, as happened in 2008 in the case of China. Instead of undercutting the illegal market and thus reducing the poaching pressure on elephants, the influx of this legal but more expensive ivory provided a means for laundering illegal ivory while simultaneously increasing demand for the illicit supply.

5. It is almost impossible to ensure that funds raised from a future sale of ivory would ever reach elephants. In 2007 the international community agreed to allow the sale of 101 tonnes of ivory, conditional on the US$15 million raised going to elephant conservation and community development programmes within or adjacent to elephant range. There is little publicly available evidence this ever happened.

6. Maintaining stockpiles sends mixed messages to consumers, traffickers and speculators, undermining demand reduction efforts and inadvertently promoting ivory as an item of value, reinforcing the perception that legal trade may someday reopen.  

7. Public destruction events raise awareness of the poaching crises with the global community, hopefully generating support from donors and lending moral and practical support to countries with elephants that are combatting poaching.

8. No one country can solve a global problem and ivory destruction reminds the world that it’s not just countries with elephants that have obligations, and that ivory destinations like the United States, China and many European countries also have a responsibility to do all they can to stop the ivory trade.

Above all, piles of elephant tusks and ivory carvings are a sad reminder of lives lost, but they’re also an important reminder of what needs to happen to ensure elephants’ lives start to become safer.

By no means is stockpile destruction the only step on the road to safeguarding elephants and ending the current poaching crises. But it is a vital step and Born Free joins others in echoing the clear message coming out of each ivory destruction event: the poaching of elephants and trade in ivory will not be tolerated! 

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