Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

A $100 Million Fire in Kenya

Jim McMahon

This is what it looks like when a fortune goes up in flames. In April, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya ordered the 105 metric tons of ivory shown here to be publicly burned in Nairobi to demonstrate his government’s commitment to stopping poaching. The illegal practice of killing elephants for their ivory tusks has been a problem for decades, and today African elephants are considered a threatened species—one step away from being endangered, or at severe risk of extinction. Only about 470,000 remain in Africa today, down from an estimated 4 million in the early 1900s. This ivory—worth about $105 million—was seized by authorities over several years. It was destined for China, Malaysia, and other countries (see chart), where the “white gold” is used to make luxury items like combs and jewelry; it’s also believed to have medicinal value. 


The April torching was the most ivory ever destroyed at one time, representing more than 6,000 dead elephants. It was intended to make the statement that ivory should be worthless unless it’s part of a living elephant. “No one, and I repeat, no one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death,” said President Kenyatta, “the death of our elephants and the death of our natural heritage.”