Nairobi – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday set fire to the world’s biggest stockpile of ivory and rhino horn as a sign that Kenya does not tolerate wildlife poaching.
Kenyatta was accompanied by the President of Gabon Ali Bongo Ondimba, Deputy President William Ruto, and other dignitaries to set ablaze 105 tons of ivory and 1.35 tons of rhino horn worth about 15 billion Kenya Shillings at the Nairobi National Park.
Kenyatta, also accompanied by first lady Margaret Kenyatta, called on other nations to join Kenya in launching a direct attack on the trade in ivory and other wildlife trophies.
“Ivory belongs to our elephants. There will not be a market in it,” he said as he called for a complete ban on any form of trade in ivory.
Kenyatta fended off arguments by people opposed to Kenya’s burning of the ivory and rhino horn.
“For us ivory is worthless unless it is on an elephant. I will rather wait for the judgement of the future generations who I am sure will appreciate the action we have taken,” he said.
Kenya was a blessed nation with a rich heritage and all Kenyans had a duty to preserve what nature had bestowed on the country.
After lighting the fire – which experts say will take several days to completely destroy the ivory and rhino horn – Kenyatta announced that the gates of the Nairobi National Park would be opened for youth aged 17 and below.
The youth would access the park for free and witness for themselves the biggest haul of ivory ever burnt by any government in the world. Some critics have argued that Kenya should have sold off the illegal ivory stocks to raise money for other uses.
Also at the event were senior representatives from foreign nations, including French Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, and knighted States Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom.
Ondimba said poachers were a threat to national security and if not dealt with could easily morph into bigger threats.
“We are going to put you out of business and the best thing for you to do is to retire from your illegal activities,” he said, warning poachers that their time was up.
Ruto said burning the ivory signified Kenya’s commitment to preserve its heritage.
“Today marks a historic moment as we send the strongest message ever to poachers, traders, and purchasers of ivory and rhino that their trade is worthless and valueless and evil,” he said.
Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources Judy Wakhungu said burning the ivory symbolised Kenya’s determination to preserve its heritage.
Chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service Dr Richard Leakey called on other countries to join Kenya in taking a strong stand against trade in ivory.
The representatives from the US and France read messages from President Barack Obama and President Francois Hollande respectively, expressing their support for Kenya’s position on the protection of wildlife and the environment.
Kenya was the first country ever to burn ivory when former president Daniel arap Moi set alight illegal stocks in 1989.
The action has since been copied by many other countries.
Kenyans took to social media to express their views on the action of burning ivory with some supporting and others condemning it.