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Massive Ivory Burn in Cameroon Sends Message to Poachers

Image:
Ivory carvings and elephant tusks are lit on fire at the first Cameroon ivory burn at the Palais des Congres in Yaounde, Cameroon, on April 19, 2016. Andrew Harnik / AP

Some 2,000 illegally trafficked elephant tusks and hundreds of finished ivory products erupted in a ball of fire Tuesday as Cameroonian authorities conducted what was believed to be one of the largest burnings of poached wildlife goods in African history.

Image: Samantha Power
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power stands in front of the ivory burn. Andrew Harnik / AP

Setting the pyre aflame in a sandy square in Cameroon's capital, Samantha Power, America's U.N. ambassador, joined Cameroonian officials in hailing the ceremony as symbolic of their commitment to win the war against illegal smuggling of animal products.

Central Africa's forest elephants have declined in number by two-thirds between 2002 and 2012.

"All of our countries can and must do more," Power said. The burning sends a clear message, she added, that "the only place ivory belongs and the only value ivory has is on elephants."

Image:
Ivory carvings and elephant tusks are placed in a pyre before the first the ivory burn at the Palais des Congres in Yaounde, Cameroon, on April 19. Andrew Harnik / AP

The heap included ivory chess boards, beads, totem poles and even miniature elephant sculptures, all intermixed with the raw tusks. Cameroonian officials said the pile totaled 3.5 tons of tusk alone, though that figure couldn't be verified. What's certain is the merchandise was worth millions of dollars. The pyre will burn for three days.

Ivory-burning ceremonies aren't a gesture universally appreciated - even in Cameroon. Some wonder why the valuable tusks aren't reused in some capacity, given the elephants are already dead.