Apr 30, 2016

Kenya prepares huge ivory burning as it seeks ban on trade

NAIROBI Kenyan park rangers piled up thousands of elephant tusks and rhino horns to burn on Saturday, sending a message to poachers and smugglers that their trade will be stopped.Armed police guarded the area, on the edge of Nairobi National Park, where a tonne of rhino horn was added to 105 tonnes of ivory in a dozen large pyres, ahead of President Uhuru Kenyatta coming to start the fire.Kenyatta has said the ceremony will show Kenya's commitment "to fighting wildlife crime and putting wildlife products beyond any economic use."The incineration will be the world's biggest after Kenya staged its first such burning in 1989. The ivory comes both from tusks seized from poachers or traders and others gathered from elephants that died of natural causes.Kenya is seeking a total world ban on ivory sales when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meets in South Africa later this year as poaching poses an increasing risk to the species.CITES banned commercial trade in African elephant ivory in 1989, but since then has permitted one-off sales. Conservationists say that ban, and Kenya's 1989 burning, helped relieve a crisis for the elephant population but that one-off legal sales have revived demand.Illegal hunting spiked in the three years to 2012 when about 100,000 elephants were killed, the equivalent of more than 33,000 a year.In the 1970s, Africa had about 1.2 million elephants, but now has 400,000 to 450,000. The situation for rhinos is more precarious. There are fewer than 30,000 left across Africa and one species, the Northern White Rhino, is on the brink of extinction. The last three are kept in Kenya under heavy guard.Kenya relies on tourism, with many drawn to safaris at luxury camps by the trove of animals Kenya boasts, particularly the "Big Five" - elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and buffalo."We have got to kill the trade in ivory once and for all," said renowned conservationist and anthropologist Richard Leakey. Pledges last year by China and the United States, two of the biggest ivory markets, to enact almost complete bans on imports and exports have helped drive ivory prices lower.But rhino horn prices are still rising, conservationists say. Armed patrols of sanctuaries and other measures have helped curb some illegal hunting but the animal's future remains grim.Kenya alone had 20,000 rhinos in the 1970s, falling to 400 in the 1990s. It now has almost 650 black rhinos. It is protecting the last three northern white rhinos as scientists race against time to find artificial reproduction techniques.Poachers in Kenya can sell the horns of a single dead rhino for the equivalent of about $50,000 in local markets, earning in one night what would take them many years in regular employment. (Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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