Kenya's government delivered a powerful message against elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade on 30 April by burning 105 tonnes of ivory, worth up to US$220 million. With stockpile destruction on the rise, it is important to evaluate the impact of this strategy on elephant populations.
Since 1989, 21 countries have burned or crushed 263 tonnes of ivory — most of it (86%) in the past 5 years (see go.nature.com/ivory). However, there is no published evidence so far that these events reduce poaching.
Destroying ivory stockpiles risks a perverse outcome: ivory becomes rarer, fetching higher prices and increasing poaching and illegal stockpiling (see M. 't Sas-Rolfes et al. Pachyderm 55, 62–77; 2014). This has prompted calls by some for a highly controlled legal ivory trade to secure elephant populations (J. F. Walker and D. Stiles Science 328, 1633–1634; 2010) — an option that ivory destruction removes.
It is therefore crucial to track the effects of Kenya's largest-ever ivory burn. Time is short and the stakes are high.
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High prices for rare species can drive large populations extinct: the anthropogenic Allee effect revisited
Journal of Theoretical Biology (2017)