NAIROBI — Eleven giant pyres of tusks went up in smoke Saturday as Kenya burnt its vast ivory stockpile in a grand gesture aimed at shocking the world into stopping the slaughter of elephants.
Lighting the fire in Nairobi’s national park, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta demanded a total ban on trade in ivory to end the ‘murderous’ trafficking and prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild.
“The height of the pile of ivory before us marks the strength of our resolve,” Kenyatta said, before thrusting a burning torch onto the ivory.
“No-one, and I repeat no-one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death of our elephants and death of our natural heritage.”
The tusks are expected to burn for days. The pyres contained some 16,000 tusks and pieces of ivory.
Kenyatta on Friday led a summit of African heads of state and conservationists pushing for a total ban.
“To lose our elephants would be to lose a key part of the heritage that we hold in trust… Quite simply, we will not allow it,” Mr Kenyatta said at a meeting of African heads of state and conservationists.
“We will not be the Africans who stood by as we lost our elephants,” he added.
The historic bonfires were the largest-ever torching of ivory, involving more than 100 tonnes from thousands of dead elephants, dwarfing by seven times any stockpile burned before.
Another 1.35 tonnes of rhino horn were also burned, representing the killing of about 340 of the endangered animals.
President Ali Bongo from Gabon, who lit one of the pyres, spoke of the “massacre” of forest elephants in central Africa, and said he backed moves to stop the sale of all ivory.
“Unless we take action now we risk losing this magnificent animal,” Bongo said at the ceremony, telling poachers he was “going to put you out of business, so the best thing you can do is to go into retirement now”.
Africa is home to between 450,000 to 500,000 elephants, but more than 30,000 are killed every year on the continent to satisfy demand for ivory in Asia, where raw tusks sell for around $1,000 (800 euros) a kilo (2.2 pounds).
Kenya has a long history of ivory burnings, spearheading a wider movement of public demonstrations across the world, but nothing on this scale before.
On the black market, such a quantity of ivory could sell for over $100 million, and the rhino horn could raise as much as $80 million.
Rhino horn can fetch as much as $60,000 per kilo — more than gold or cocaine.
Despite the staggering size of the piles being burned, totalling some five percent of global stocks, the ivory represents just a fraction of the animals killed every year.
Kenya Wildlife Service chief Richard Leakey called on all African nations to follow Kenya in destroying ivory and rhino horn, saying it was “shameful” to keep stocks in case of possible future sale.
“They are speculators on an evil, illegal commodity,” Leakey said.
The ivory seized from poachers and smugglers over several years — as well as from animals who died naturally — is equivalent to just a quarter of the number of elephants killed each year to feed demand in growing economies in Asia, eager for an elephant’s tooth as a status symbol.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned the ivory trade in 1989.
Activists say destroying the stocks will put anti-trafficking efforts at the top of the agenda at the next CITES conference.
Two held on charge of girls trafficking
BETRAWATI— Police have arrested two persons for their alleged involvement in trafficking five adolescent girls aged between 13 to 16 — to India.
The arrestees have been identified as Nirmal Biswakarma (23) of Bheriganga Municipality-12 of Surkhet and Bikas Pyakurel (20) of Chaughada in Likhu Rural Municipality-4 of Nuwakot.
The Surkhet Police had arrested Biswokarma from his home while rescuing the captive girls on Friday and produced him before court on Saturday.
Likewise, acting on the statement of the captive girls, police arrested Pyakurel from Battar Bazaar, Nuwakot on Sunday.
According to District Police Office Chief Basanta Kunwar, a case related to human trafficking was registered against them on Sunday and investigation into the case was expedited from the Nuwakot District Court.
It has been learnt that the duo lured the girls, on their way to play Bhailo on Laxmi Puja, by promising them good jobs in India and transported them to Surkhet.
The rescued girls have been kept at a shelter of Women and Children Service Centre of Nepal Police.Follow @gorkhapost