Over 10,000 pounds of seized elephant ivory were burned in Gabon on Wednesday to combat a spike in poaching and illegal ivory trafficking.
The Central African country suffered a record slaughter of elephants last year as demand skyrocketed in the Asian market. In just 12 months ivory prices in the region rose 750 percent, placing Gabon’s elephants under a threatening siege.
In an effort to prevent smugglers from using corrupt government officials to get their hands on the black market commodities, Gabon’s president Ali Bongo Ondimba decided to eliminate the likelihood of temptation. Setting fire to the government’s entire stockpile, amounting to approximately 850 elephants, President Bongo emphasizes, "Gabon has a policy of zero tolerance for wildlife crime and we are putting in place the institutions and laws to ensure this policy is enforced."
The stockpile contained more than 1,200 raw elephant tusks, and nearly 18,000 pieces of carved ivory -- a combined value of around $10 million on the black market.
Ivory trade expert Tom Milliken from the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, stresses, "If not managed properly, ivory stockpiles in the hands of government suddenly get legs and move into illegal trade." According to TRAFFIC, in Zambia, three metric tons of government stockpiled ivory went missing last week, while Mozambique lost more than a ton of ivory from its government storeroom.
With elephant poaching levels at their highest in over a decade, it is estimated that there are only between 472,00 to 690,000 African elephants remaining in the continent today. These numbers represent a drastic change from the WWF’s estimate of 3-5 million elephants in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Of the remaining elephants, Gabon is home to an estimated population of around 50,000. In response to these low numbers, the Gabonese government formed a 250-man special armed force to protect endangered elephants from poachers.
President Bongo’s decisive action to destroy their governments stockpile sends a significant message about the elephant poaching situation today, "I call upon the international community to join us in this fight. If we do not reverse the tide fast the African elephant will be exterminated."