Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


Certain governments are in possession of stockpiled ivory, some of which are steadily increasing as police and customs agencies make seizures and, in the case of countries with elephants, when carcasses are found with tusks still present. Despite the fact that the international commercial ivory trade is still largely banned under CITES*, destruction is being increasingly promoted as the only viable long term solution to these stockpiles, prone to leakage due to corruption, and their very existence giving hope to those who seek to re-open the trade and profit from the plunder of this majestic species.

The first symbolic ivory stockpile burn took place on the 19th July 1989, the year before the international trade ban came into force, in response to the loss of more than half of Africa’s elephants over the previous 10 years. Kenya’s President, Daniel Arap Moi, burned 12 tonnes of ivory, followed closely by two subsequent burns by Kenya in 1991 and Zambia in 1992.


Tsavo National Park, Kenya. 20 July 2011.

Nearly 5 tonnes of ivory was seized in Singapore in 2002 by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), an intergovernmental law enforcement organisation comprised of Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia and Zambia.

His Exellency President Mwai Kibaki and dignitaries igniting the ivory bonfire
His Exellency President Mwai Kibaki and dignitaries igniting the ivory bonfire

As poaching intensified and illegal ivory smuggling continued apace, the LATF determined that there was only one way to draw the world’s attention to the plight faced by African elephants across much of their range – torch the ivory.

Smoke from the bonfire reached up into an elephant grey sky as a flaming torch wielded by His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, the President of Kenya, ignited a funeral pyre of nearly 5 tonnes of illegal ivory

“It was intensely emotional” said one onlooker, “to imagine the great herd that those tusks represent being wiped out for human vanity and greed was overwhelming.”

Libreville, Gabon. 27 June 2012.

In a dramatic statement of principle, the Central African nation of Gabon burnt its 4.8 tonne elephant ivory stockpile - a move widely applauded by the international conservation community. 

© Luc Mathot / Conservation Justice

Ian Redmond OBE, Wildlife Consultant to the Born Free Foundation exclaimed: “Gabon’s ivory bonfire (a true bonfire of the vanities, given the uses to which ivory is put) sends a clear signal to the world – the ivory trade must end.  Why is this so important? Because the elephant is not only an icon of African wildlife and culture, they are also widely viewed as a super-keystone species or ‘mega-gardeners of the forest’.   Their role as seed dispersal agents and landscape gardeners is critical to the health of their forest, and their forests are in turn critical to global climate stability.”

Denver, USA. 14 November 2013.

On Thursday, November 14, wildlife advocates gathered near Denver, USA to witness a historic event:  the crushing of more than 5.4 tonnes of seized elephant ivory. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held its ivory crush—which included 25 years’ worth of seized tusks, carvings, and trinkets—to raise awareness of the global poaching crisis, and to spread the firm message that elephant poaching must end.

“We’re doing this to send a signal to the world that we need to crush the illegal trade in ivory and wildlife products,” declared Dane Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who presided over the crush. “These magnificent animals are in great jeopardy because of the commercial trade for their parts.” Ashe called ivory an "emblem of greed and callous indifference."

Paris, France. 6 February 2014.

France crushed and incinerated 3.5 tonnes of ivory, in the shadow of the iconic Eiffel Tower while the UK hosted the Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade in London on the 13th February 2014. 

Born Free’s President, Will Travers OBE, said: “By destroying this ivory, France is sending two key messages to the global community: that the illegal ivory trade is completely unacceptable and that ivory should never be allowed to enter the marketplace, where it fuels demand and contributes to the death of both elephants and the wildlife rangers trying to protect them.”

“As many as 50,000 elephants a year are being brutally poached for their ivory tusks”, continued Mr Travers. “It is the responsibility of the global community to stamp out this trade immediately.  Destroying stockpiles and removing them from future use is a vital step in this process.” 

These actions, although hugely symbolic and powerful in their own right, actually represent the failure of the international community to bring the slaughter to an end. Born Free urges all of the world’s governments to destroy all of their ivory, commit to implementing the global ban on ivory trade, take action against the transnational criminal syndicates involved in this dreadful and bloody business, and pledge funds for implementation of the African Elephant Action Plan.  Only this will ensure we all share a future with elephants.


For more information on the ivory trade, visit and Born Free's dedicated website about the illegal ivory trade

*Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

29th April, 2015

Iin Republic of Congo’s capital Brazzaville, a 4.7 tonne pyre of ivory was burnt and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, another 10 tonnes was crushed.

Naftali Honig, a Founding Director of the EAGLE Network, describes the ivory burn eloquently: "The burning of ivory represents an excellent symbol of the worthlessness of ivory unless it is still attached to beautiful, living elephants. As the Congo joins the other nations who have burnt their stockpiles, we are happy to see this bloody ivory destroyed as the contraband that it is." 

Born Free Foundation
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