burning ivory Carl De Souz/Getty Images

The Case for Burning Ivory

Kenya's decision to burn a stockpile of ivory worth $110 million makes perfect economic sense. It sends a clear message to consumers in East Asia and elsewhere: Ivory belongs to the elephants and to nobody else.

JOHANNESBURG – Kenya is about to destroy its entire stockpile of elephant ivory. More than 100 metric tons of “white gold” – both illegally harvested (confiscated from poachers or traders) and naturally accruing (from natural mortality) – will go up in smoke this weekend. In China – where the majority of the world’s ivory is consumed or stockpiled – the recently reported price is $1,100 per kilogram, putting the total value of the material to be burned at roughly $110 million.

To most economists, the idea of destroying something with so much value is anathema. But there are good reasons for a country – even one as poor as Kenya – to surrender its ivory wealth to the flames.

For starters, stockpile destruction fortifies the credibility of demand-reduction campaigns in East Asia, without which the poaching problem will never be solved. Demand reduction aims to weaken the market for the product by changing consumer tastes. As prices drop, so does the incentive for poachers to kill elephants.

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