By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, March 20 – Ethiopia burnt 6.1 tonnes of ivory on Friday, tusks and trinkets seized from poachers and traders over twenty years in a country that has lost 90 percent of its elephants in just three decades.
Police and park officers poured petrol on the stockpile at a ceremony on a hill in the middle of the capital’s Gulele Botanic Garden. It was lit by Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen.
“This is a vital stepping stone for strengthened activities,” he said of the symbolic gesture in a speech, referring to more stringent laws against poaching.
The ash will be used to fertilise 90,000 trees to be planted at the 30 hectare site, and a statue of an elephant will stand among the trees.
Poaching has surged across sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years, with gangs killing elephants and rhinos to feed ever-increasing demand for ivory and horns from Asia.
A 2014 U.N. and Interpol report estimated that about 20,000 to 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa every year, out of a total population of as many as 650,000.
Neighbouring Kenya burned 15 tonnes of ivory this month.
Ethiopia has about 1,900 elephants in nine designated sites, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) said, citing an Ethiopian government report.
Conservationists say 42 elephants were killed between 2011 and 2014. Three have been killed since January this year.
Dawud Mume Ali, Director General of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, told Reuters that 492 foreign nationals – from West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Far East – were either put in prison or fined during those three years.
“Ethiopia’s wildlife areas are spectacular but their wildlife tourism infrastructure and capacity for managing protected areas are underdeveloped,” AWF’s Vice President of Conservation Strategy, Kathleen Fitzgerald, said.
That meant the country was not realising all the economic and ecological benefits those resources have to offer, she said. (Editing by Duncan Miriri and Louise Ireland)