Eleven giant pyres of tusks from around 6,000 elephants, a quantity seven times the size of any previous burn, were lit by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, at a ceremony in Nairobi national park on Saturday.
More than 100 tonnes of ivory has been set ablaze in Kenya, the largest ever such fire, in an attempt to shock the world into protecting endangered elephants.
Kenyatta, who was joined by other African leaders and foreign officials, has demanded a total ban on the ivory trade to protect the future of wild elephants on the continent. The move has been supported by a range of conservation groups.
On the bonfire were tusks, ivory sculptures and rhino horn confiscated by the Kenyan authorities and said to be worth up to $105m (£82m) on the black market.
Speaking to a large audience before opening the ceremony, Kenyatta said: “Kenya is making a statement that for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants. This will send an absolutely clear message that the trade in ivory must come to an end and our elephants must be protected. I trust that the world will join us to end the horrible suffering of our herds and save our elephants for future generations.”
The ceremony was designed to highlight the decline in Africa’s wild elephant population and the impact of poaching. Each year more than 30,000 elephants are killed for their tusks.
On Friday, Kenyatta said: “The future of the African elephant and rhino is far from secure so long as demand for their products continues to exist.” He will press for a ban at an international wildlife trade meeting in South Africa in September.
Related: Ivory pyres in Kenya – in pictures
The director of the Kenya wildlife service, Kitili Mbathi, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The reason is to make a statement to the world that we are committed to conservation, and to underline the fact that we don’t believe that there ought to be any value attributed to ivory and rhino horn but on elephants and rhinos.”
The burn was not universally welcomed, however. Mike Norton-Griffiths, an environmental economist, told Today : “I am very worried about it. I think it’s almost reckless of the Kenyans. The problem is it’s a very large burn of ivory, 5% of the global stocks of ivory, and when you take 5% of stocks out of a market like this, a resource market, something is going to happen.
“The traders will see 5% less ivory available to be released to them. Their response will be: ‘They’re taking this seriously, they’re never going to release this ivory to us, we must go and collect more from elephants.’”
Campaigners are keen for investment to reduce costs and increase benefits for conserving elephants, and global efforts to cut the demand for ivory products.