What Should Be Done with Tanzania’s Stockpile of Captured Elephant Ivory?

Tanzania’s 120 metric tons of stockpiled ivory, accumulated over the last 23 years is valued at over $50 million and its ”ivory room” warehouse is a grim memorial to the dramatic decline of Africa’s elephant population.

In July 1989, Kenya issued a call-to-action to alert the world to a poaching crisis. Then President Daniel arap Moi, together with then Executive Director of Kenya Wildlife Service Dr. Richard Leakey, burned 12 tons of ivory stock.

In September of that year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) secured an agreement among its member states to ban all international trade in ivory. But, under pressure from countries in Asia and southern Africa, CITES sanctioned two sales of ivory, in 1999 and 2008—stimulating poaching across the elephant range and ivory smuggling across the world.

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Tanzania’s ivory stockpile in 1988. Source: EIA – Vanishing Point

In 2011, Kenya again drew attention to poaching deaths when President Mwai Kibaki set fire to more than 5 tons of ivory tusks and trinkets.

Unlike Kenya, Tanzania, one of the poorest countries in the world, has not agreed to burn its stockpile of ivory, arguing that the money from a sale could support conservation efforts. However, Tanzanian officials say that if an international agency were to buy the tusks with the intention of burning them, they would eagerly sell them. Tanzania asked CITES for an exception to the ivory ban for such a sale, with proceeds used only for conservation efforts, but they withdrew their request in early 2013.

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