By Christine Dell'Amore
More than ten thousand pounds of elephant ivory went up in flames today in the central African country of Gabon, a fiery act intended to snuff out a recent spike in poaching.
The government-held stockpile represents roughly 850 elephants that must have been killed for their ivory, which is increasingly in demand in Asia for artistic pieces. (Related: "Elephant Pictures: Killed Female Highlights Poaching Rise.")
The cache—which included more than 1,200 tusks and 17,000 pieces of carved ivory confiscated since 1985—is valued at a million euros, according to the nonprofits WWF and TRAFFIC, which have worked with Gabon to audit its ivory stocks.
Gabon's president Ali Bongo ignited the ivory pyre in the capital city of Libreville, making Gabon the first central African country to publicly burn its ivory. (Read "Ivory Wars" in National Geographic magazine.)
The event took place "on a hill, looking over Libreville—it was a beautiful scene, a slight breeze and cloudy sky," Richard Carroll, head of WWF's Africa Program, said in a phone interview from Libreville.
"In the middle of this field was this huge pile of ivory tusks all stacked up on a pyre."
After the pile was lit, "the smoke and [fire] built up more and more, and the heat was rising off this ivory—it was just a very inspirational scene," Carroll said.
"It's sending up a torch or beacon to the rest of the world ... that there is no tolerance for wildlife crime, [and] they're taking it seriously in this country."
"Shocking" Rise in Elephant Killings
The ivory burn comes amid "crisis levels" of elephant poaching across Africa, particularly in the central regions, according to a June report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). More....