Kenya invented bon fire to reduce the stock pile of ivory in 19 July 1989 when they reduced about 12,000 kg of ivory to ashes. Similar burning was again pursued in 2015 and 2016 when Kenya burnt down 15,000 kg and 105,000 kg respectively of ivory and rhino horns. Kenya’s invention was followed by number of countries likes Belgium, China, France and USA by destroying stockpiles of illegally traded elephant ivory and rhino horns that were seized and confiscated. However, another big burn after Kenya was by United Arab Emirates in 2015 when they destroyed 10,000 kg of ivory followed by Malaysia in 2016 by burning 9500 kg of ivory.
The latest burn came from Nepal on 22nd May 2017 wherein they burnt more than 4000 animal parts, which came from about 48 species of wild animals. Animal parts like tiger skins and rhino hides were also reduced to ashes with the intention to show solidarity against animal poaching and illegal trade. With more countries joining the bandwagon of burning down confiscated animal parts, there are group of people supporting it and as expected another not supporting the burning. Majority of those not in favors of destroying the animal parts speaks from economic point of view, which I would dis-agree. However, I too fall in the category of those not in favor of burning down the animal parts, with my own set of arguments.
Many pro-burners believe that burning ivory sends a powerful message to poachers that confiscated contraband ivory will be destroyed, killing the supply. But, during our high school days, we were taught economics quite different. Our economics class taught us that if the supply of a product is disrupted without affecting the demand, the price of that product will most likely increase. This would only mean one thing: the price for ivory and rhino horn or any animal products will increase and higher the price would encourage poachers to take more risks. If the demand persists, poaching will continue! Let us remind ourselves that in the world large quantities of confiscated drugs are destroyed through incineration almost every day. But is destroying confiscated drugs stopping its production? or illegal trade? For instance Peru incinerated 40 tonnes of confiscated drugs within four months in 2016, but the rate of illegal drug movement is never showing any signs of slowing down. I’m afraid that same might be the case even after we burn down the stock piles of animal parts. It is a simple logic – burning does not affect the demand.
However, having said that, I’m in no way inclining towards exploring the legal markets for the confiscated products. First, there aren’t any legal markets for threatened animal parts and CITES doesn’t have provision to legalize trade of flora and fauna listed within Appendix I of its species list. Even if CITES has the provision to have markets for animal parts, I don’t believe in commoditizing a species whose very existence has come under threat due to demand for a product derived from it.
My argument is directed towards education and research, as the practicality of the use of confiscated stock for educational, scientific or enforcement purposes has never been really pursued on a significant scale. Why should it be not pursued before jumping to destruction? Ivory can be used for research and scientific purposes as ivory holds information on the diets of the animal and how the climate changed over time. Such information, I believe would be vital to understand animal’s ecology and to help us protect the animals from the wary eyes of poachers. We can be pretty certain that we are failing as humans to ensure the existence of threatened animals, thus, why not explore the possibility of starting up a repository to preserve confiscated specimens. We will never know if our future generations will ever get to see such animal parts if we burn it all. Let’s think about preserving such specimens for our future’s’ to refer and appreciate that such animals existed in the past but was unfortunately wiped off from earth by human greed and consumerist society.
Last but not the least; I believe that having mechanisms to improve human welfare/livelihood is the only solution to conservation. Someone said that, ‘it is about time for us to get into the thick skull of hardcore conservationist/biologist that resource management is not about managing resources, but about understanding people and how to manage people’s actions’. I believe that the solution for this complex issue lies with local communities and indigenous people worldwide and not with some activists. For instance, if we want to prevent our tigers or elephants from becoming the animals of the past, we must put our ideologies aside and listen to the need of our indigenous people or of the poachers and draw how they want management of such species to be implemented. Solutions can only be driven by our own communities and cannot be imported, imposed, bought, or driven by politics.
Let me re-iterate and ask for the evidence of stockpile burning helping reduce poaching for the burning began as early as 1989. It is now almost 25 years since Kenya invented this measure with the belief that it ‘sends out a message that illegal trade will not be tolerated’, but after more than two decades did Kenya experience any decrease in poaching and illegal trade of animal parts? Instead Kenya seems to be burning more of it every time they do: 15,000 kg in 2015 and 105,000 kg in 2016 and one might need supernatural power to know how much they will land up burning in 2017 or in following years.
Since, there isn’t anything we could do; I shall remain to pray for the poached animals with the wish to see their “gruesome dead” serve the purpose of telling the tale in future. However, for those animals, whose parts turned to ashes, I hope that smell from burning it benefited all the spiritual beings living on smells of burnt substance [at-least that’s what I believe being a born Buddhist] .