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Burn All Elephant Ivory on the Same Day

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Stockpiled ivory refers to the elephant tusks that many governments have sitting in warehouses. Most of these tusks are confiscated from poachers (people who kill elephants so they can sell their ivory tusks). The government Ivory Room in Tanzania currently holds 34,000 tusks, or 125 tons of tusks. 

All governments should destroy their ivory stockpiles on the same day and promise to destroy future stockpiles on the same day.

The biggest reason to burn all stockpiled ivory tusks is to keep them from being sold, even legally. Twice now, African governments have legally sold their stockpiled ivory. In 1997 the United Nations, through an arm called CITES, approved a one-off sale that happened in 1999. That was when Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe sold $5 million in raw ivory to Japan. In 2002 and 2004, CITES approved the second one-off sale which took place in 2008. That was when South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe sold $15.5 million in raw ivory to Japan and China.

The governments that supported the two one-off sales said they hoped to flood the market to bring down the price of ivory. They said that making more ivory available would stop poaching. This was never scientifically or mathematically substantiated. It is suspected that the African and Asian government officials in charge at the time were eager to get their hands on the cash these sales would bring, either for their government departments or for themselves personally.

In the end, these one-off sales drove up the demand for ivory. Although people have come up with many reasons for the current poaching crisis, the fact is the tusks arrived in China in 2009 and 2010, and poaching climaxed in 2011. Here is how those sales encouraged poaching, especially in China: each piece of sold ivory came with a certificate. Because nobody can tell by looking at a certificate which piece of ivory it goes with, those certificates have been used again and again to justify the import and sale of many pieces of poached ivory. The system is so corrupt that a dealer can sell hundreds of tusks with just one certificate. In fact, the certificates have become so valuable that an ivory dealer will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to have one. As a result, as long as such certificates are recognized, illegal ivory sales and poaching will go on. Because of this ridiculous system, allowing more stockpiled ivory to be sold, even legally, will encourage more poaching. 

Another reason to destroy stockpiles is to destroy hope. Maintaining stockpiles gives the Chinese dealers hope that they will one day get more ivory and more certificates. This in turn gives smugglers and trigger men hope that they will be able to sell more poached ivory. In effect, just leaving Ivory in warehouses gives the criminals a reason to stay in business.  

Most importantly, the mass destruction of all stockpiles may get rid of corrupt officials. At the moment, there are plenty of African officials vying to sell the stockpiled ivory so the profits will end up in their departments where they can skim some cash. There may also be Asian officials vying to stay in positions of power so they get some cash for selling the ivory to the right buyers, and more cash from selling the legal certificates that come with the ivory. As long as there is the possibility of getting this extra cash, these officials are going to stay in their jobs. Only when the stockpiled ivory is gone will they leave their posts. Their departure will allow other, less corrupt officials to take over and give elephants a chance.

Another issue is that government stockpiles are expensive to protect and easily raided. For example, in 2015, at least six stockpiles were robbed, some by fiercely armed gangs. 

A similar issue is that the longer the stockpiles are around, the more chance the officials who oversee them will steal from them. The report that the Philippines destroyed its stockpile is questionable because it was done privately, and there is a history of ivory disappearing there. There has also been some question about Kenya’s ivory stockpile. The Kenyan government’s reticence to say how much ivory it owns has made people wonder whether years of corruption mean the stockpile holds less that it ought to. Such theft puts more ivory into the black market. 

Another reason to destroy the stockpiles – and commit to destroying future stockpiles – is that it will make the trigger men, smugglers and dealers take the governments’ threats of prosecution and jail time more seriously. A government that is serious enough to destroy its stockpile will be perceived as determined enough to levy heavy punishments.

It has been suggested that all governments destroy their stockpiled ivory on the same day. The idea is that destroying all stockpiles at once will prove there is no future in ivory and drive the price down, thus discouraging more poaching. Economic researcher Ross Harvey from the South African Institute of International Affairs proposes simultaneous burning because his research, based on math and statistics, shows that each time a country destroys ivory at random, the demand spikes, meaning more elephants are killed.

Of course, some people who live in poor African countries, such as Malawi, and some people who live in rich African countries, such as South Africa, would prefer to sell their government ivory and use the proceeds to feed their citizens or protect wildlife. The idea that some poverty-stricken African countries could use financial assistance is hard to ignore. Although nobody is suggesting that the USA or any country pay nations to destroy their stockpiles, the USA and other countries could donate money to a development fund that supports any poverty-stricken country that commits to destroying stockpiled ivory on specific days. 

Keep in mind, although the United Nations can stop countries from selling their stockpiled ivory, it cannot require countries to destroy their stockpiles. For now, each government with ivory stockpiles must make its own decision. 

The best decision Is to destroy all ivory stockpiles as soon as possible and on designated dates.

Please visit for more information.

You may also go to to buy a copy of my book, One Less Elephant, about living, hunting and poaching in Tanzania.

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