The case for burning ivory
management is labour-intensive and technologically demanding. The ivory also must be air-conditioned to prevent the tusks from cracking or becoming brittle (important factors for attracting higher prices).
Given the low probability of being able to sell ivory in the future, the cost of storing and protecting it is unlikely to be recouped. Meanwhile, criminal syndicates need only corrupt a handful of local officials to make off with the goods.
Then there are the high opportunity costs of investment in maintaining stockpiles. The scarce human and financial resources allocated toward stockpile management could be more efficiently directed toward landscape preservation efforts (which can become self-sustaining over time through payment for ecosystem services).
Finally, burning ivory worth millions of dollars has an undeniable symbolic impact. It sends a clear message: Ivory belongs to elephants and to no one else. And it makes clear that elephants are worth more alive than dead.
Indeed, elephants’ value is anything but symbolic. Elephants are a keystone species for preserving important ecosystems. And yet rampant poaching is destroying elephant populations across Africa, killing, on average, 30,000 a year.
Poaching also has a negative impact on communities, benefiting a few at the expense of the many. Recent research has shown that community conservancies (areas set aside for wildlife conservation) in northern Kenya are highly effective forms of landscape (and therefore elephant) preservation, provided the right incentives are in place. This is important because in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, the majority of wildlife exists outside formally protected areas.
Kenya should be commended for making a wise – and efficient – decision. Its neighbours, as well as countries farther south, should follow its example. Ideally, all rangestate countries should destroy their stockpiles to overcome the regional collective action problem. Doing so would send an unmistakable signal to the global market: Ivory is not for sale, not now and not in the future.