Ivory Destruction - Why

Ivory burning
Photo: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust


In 1989, Kenya was the first country to set fire to their stockpile of confiscated ivory. In doing this Kenya sent an important message to the world meaning that the financial value that had just been burned counted for little, compared to the value of the lives of elephants. Kenya declared war on all poachers, said a clear 'no' to ivory trade, and gave high priority to the protection of elephants.


Due to the soaring levels of poaching over a number of years, Kenya has burnt its ivory several times. Other countries have also destroyed their ivory stockpiles:

- to take a stand against wildlife trafficking and poaching


- to draw more public attention to the poaching problem and the imminent extinction of elephants.


- to highlight the plight of thousands of elephants that become victims of wildlife crime every year


- to serve as a deterrent for criminals, demonstrate that country's intolerance to wildlife crime and make clear that  severe punishments are waiting for those who break the law


- to make consumers aware of the consequences (extinction, crime, terrorism) arising out of their ivory purchases


- the destruction of state-owned stockpiles removes any reason for poachers, traders, speculators and consumers to  believe the legal ivory trade will ever be reinstated.


It remains incomprehensible why ivory stockpiles continue to exist. Usually following a criminal conviction the evidence is usually disposed of in due course. Storing ivory costs a lot of money, year on year, and the perceived value of the material could encourage criminals. The practice of countries stockpiling ivory is not a good one, because it encourages speculation that there might be a legal market for it in the future to sell it at a huge profit. However, there may not be a market for ivory any more if elephants were to be given a chance of survival. The solution to the poaching crisis will only come about when the world’s biggest buyers and sellers get serious about shutting the blood ivory market down for good. Trade should only be considered when elephants become completely extinct, therefore stockpiling ivory means speculation on extinction.


The only way to save the gentle giants is to reduce the value of ivory to nil and by attaching a social stigma to owning it. This is one of the main intentions of public ivory destructions.



There are arguments saying it would be better to use the money that could be raised by selling the ivory for the  rotection of elephants in Africa on the ground. However, this does not take into consideration that each sale of ivory stimulates the market and so again creates more poaching. The demand is never-ending and is only increased by any fresh supply.


Above all, an international ban on the sale of ivory already exists. Any country that is party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) commits an offence if it tries to sell its ivory stockpile. According to CITES regulations confiscated ivory may, after all legal proceedings have taken place and after gathering DNA samples for the tracking of its origin, only be used for scientific and educational purposes.


Consequently the frequently used argument that the value would increase by the destruction of confiscated ivory is wrong, as it cannot enter the market anyway due to its illegality.


The proposed suggestion that flooding the market with ivory therefore satisfying the demand and lowering its market price, would never work. The so-called 'one-off sales' agreed by CITES in the past are proof of that. Prices have soared and poaching has escalated dramatically.


Furthermore, there is a CITES regulation that for these 'one-off sales', the ivory must come from elephants that have died from natural circumstances, from so-called 'problem-elephants', and from culling-actions. Ivory from poached elephants may not be sold under any circumstances.


Since July 2014 CITES acknowledges and recommends the destruction of illegal ivory instead of stockpiling it.

All countries have a duty to control their imports and exports. However, only a fraction of all smuggled ivory is discovered and confiscated. Experts estimate that around 90 % of smuggled ivory is not detected by customs and enters the legal markets illicitly.


Hence all countries, especially China, Hong Kong, the USA, and Thailand, must completely close down their national ivory markets immediately if mankind is serious about the future of elephants on our planet.


In an open letter dated 22nd January 2014 (see download below), eleven NGOs demanded the destruction of ivory from the governments of all EU countries - and this letter is more topical than ever.

When a European country destroys its stock of these grisly goods, it not only demonstrates global environmental consciousness and its determination to act against wildlife crime, but also its solidarity with those countries in Africa and Asia that are battling to save their elephants.


Belgium and France already destroyed their ivory in 2014.

Italy did it, in March 2016.


Germany is considered as playing an important role within Europe.

When will Germany follow suit in destroying its stockpiles of ivory?


At the end of April 2016 Kenya burnt more than 100 tonnes of ivory, the largest haul ever set alight.  

Tanzania intends to go on storing its huge stockpile of far more than 120 tons...

 Birgit Hampl, 4/2016

Update 6/2017


Photo: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

OPEN LETTER: Appeal to EU Governments to Destroy Ivory Stockpiles
Adobe Acrobat Dokument 725.2 KB