Malaysia burns tonnes of ivory

The African elephant is being hunted to extinction. Source: YouTube

The Malaysian authorities have destroyed 9.5 tonnes of seized elephant ivory to deter smugglers who have long used the country as a transit point.

The mound of African elephant tusks, worth around US$20 million, was first fed into in an industrial crusher and then incinerated in a giant furnace in Port Dickson, southern Malaysia.

Malaysia said 4,624 ivory tusks were confiscated between 2011 and 2014.

“This is our first-ever ivory destruction. We want to send a strong message to the world that Malaysia does not compromise in protecting endangered species,” environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

The international ivory trade has been illegal since 1989 after the population of African elephants declined from millions in the middle of the 20th century to 600,000 by the late 1980s.

But poaching and smuggling have continued as demand, particularly from China, has remained high. In China, ivory is prized for medicinal and decorative uses.

A signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Malaysia has seized a number of shipments over the years, mostly by sea.

In March, the authorities said they had seized 159kg of ivory smuggled by passengers on commercial flights.

Wan Junaidi said the illegal tusks destroyed originated from 11 African countries, from Ghana to Tanzania.

Malaysia said it would join forces with other nations to tackle poaching and smuggling.

Wan Junaidi said Malaysia fully understood, as home to Asian elephants, the value of the African elephant.

“The world is facing the loss of more elephants, thus threatening the future of elephants across the continent. According to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [Cites], more than 20,000 elephants may have been poached across Africa in 2013,” he said.

He said Malaysia had successfully confiscated more than 4,000 pieces of ivory and other wildlife species through coordinated efforts of an international enforcement network and public information.

“Results from the forensic analysis revealed that the ivory derives from Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. However, unlike other countries identified as transit points, Malaysia does not have a domestic market for ivory or the ivory-carving industry,” he added.

He said that the ivory was seized at KL International Airport, Port Klang and Butterworth.

Junaidi explained that the move to burn the stocks were partly a response to questions raised by conservationists over the fate of the ivory.

“I do not want any of the seized ivory lost. If the ivory is no longer needed to be kept for evidence, we will destroy it,” he said.

Foreign diplomats and conservation groups attended the event.

“We look forward to these good intentions being bolstered with concrete actions to tackle the factors that have made Malaysia a key transit point in the global ivory trade,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, an Asean programme manager for Traffic.