For the past week, men have unloaded tons of ivory at the Nairobi National Park and built them into towers up to 10 feet tall and 20 feet across.
On Saturday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta—who was the first to light the semicircle of tusks from about 8,000 elephants—demanded a total ban on the ivory trade to prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild.
CNN reports that every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed for its tusks.
“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,” Kenyatta said at a meeting of African heads of state and conservationists, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Co. “We will not be the Africans who stood by as we lost our elephants,” he added.
ABC reports that Africa is home to between 450,000 and 500,000 elephants, but more than 30,000 are killed every year to satisfy a ravenous demand for ivory in Asia. China’s rapidly growing economy and expanding upper class have created a strong market for ivory and for the even more expensive, and endangered, rhino horn.
On the black market, the confiscated ivory is estimated to be worth between $131 million and $172 million. The 1.5 tons of rhino horn also burned has a street value of as much as $105 million. Rhino horn is worth more than $79,000 per kilo—more than gold or cocaine.
In the past, countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Namibia have taken their confiscated ivory and sold it, raising millions for elephant-conservation initiatives.
But Kenya prefers to let it burn. Since 1989, the country has had about four massive burnings, with the one on Saturday its largest.
“From a Kenyan perspective, we’re not watching any money go up in smoke,” Kenya Wildlife Service Director General Kitili Mbathi said to CNN. “The only value of the ivory is tusks on a live elephant.”
Ivory itself does not burn, and so the fire is fueled by a mix of diesel and kerosene injected though steel pipes buried in the ground and leading into the middle of the ivory stacks.
The term #IvoryBurn was trending on Twitter Saturday morning, with some Africans calling out Asia’s appetite that fuels the trade.
— #K O T (@KOTNewsAt9) April 30, 2016