To Burn or Not to Burn: African countries’ ivory stockpiles

Earlier this month, the Malawi government announced to postpone the scheduled burn of its domestic ivory stockpiles, the new date is yet to be set. The official reason of the delay was the need to include the outstanding 2.6 tonnes of ivory which is court evidence, which requires further audits and monitor under CITES.

Setting a fire on confiscated ivory is not news anymore. The current and previous Kenya presidents all set fires on ivory stockpiles before. The latest one happened in this march, more than 15 tonnes ivory were burnt into ashes.

There is also doubt of whether destructing ivory stockpiles really help the wild elephant conservation in the long run. The answer is a big fat YES from me.

Firstly, the poached ivory stockpiles have no economic value and are out of circulation. So burning out the ivory doesn’t mean the ivory is “wasted” from someone’s perspective, and it will not make the ivory more scarce. As I said, confiscated ivory cannot be seen as commercial products from a simple “demand-supply” angle.

Secondly, countries holding massive ivory stockpiles usually have less capacity or law enforcement power. In Africa, poaching and wildlife crime often are associated with corruptions, regional conflicts, drug trade and even human trafficking. Storing and managing tonnes of ivory for years is not an easy task, so destructive in one go largely eliminate the chances of “inside job” or theft. If the contraband makes its way back to the black market, the previous effort will be in vain.

Ivory stockpile destruction also sends out a powerful and unequivocal message to the public that these contrabands are the results of criminal activity and the countries are willing to fight against the wildlife crime. Even this action can be interpreted as a PR work sometimes. Their main argument is if burning out the ivory stockpiles are really effective, then it has been burnt out not once, not twice, but dozens times, why the smuggling and poaching rate still remain high?

High demand from east plays the vital role in here, which also stimulate the demand for either legal or poached ivory. China and Japan are the main ivory consuming countries, both claim have stringent domestic ivory policies. According to various surveys and field research the civil societies have done, it is not a difficult task to buy the ivory even on the street. Some shops use the government issued official permits as a cover to “whitewash” the illegal sourced ivory. Clearly, this parallel legal system fails to fulfill its responsibility and far away from curbing poaching. After the two one-off sales to China and Japan, pushed by pro-trade activist in 1999 and 2008, a spike in poaching has steadily increased to the point that the past 3 years have been among the worst ever for elephants.

Stay wild xxx