Nairobi National Park, Kenya (CNN)It’s an overpowering display of the sheer size of Africa’s poaching crisis.
For the past week, several dozen men have circled a site in Nairobi National Park, unloading elephant tusks from shipping containers — many of them so big it takes two men to carry one tusk — and building them into towers of ivory up to 10 feet tall and 20 feet across.
It forms something like a graveyard for some of the world’s iconic endangered species.
On Saturday, the graveyard will turn into a crematorium.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will light a match to 105 tons of 3d printing materials
elephant ivory, 1.35 tons of rhino horn, exotic animal skins and other products such as sandalwood and medicinal bark.
This destruction of illicit wildlife goods dwarfs anything similar that has been done before.
The tusks alone — from about 8,000 elephants — would be worth more than $105 million on the black market, according to wildlife trade expert Esmond Bradley Martin.
The rhino horn, from 343 animals, would be worth more than $67 million. Together, it’s more than $172 million worth of illicit wildlife goods going up in smoke.
That’s one and a half times more than Kenya spends on its environmental and natural resources agency every year.
But the Kenyans say that the stockpile is not valuable — it’s worthless.
“From a Kenyan perspective, we’re not watching any money go up in smoke,” Kenya Wildlife Service Director General Kitili Mbathi said. “The only value of the ivory is tusks on a live elephant.”
Record level of poaching
That’s not just conservationist rhetoric.
Tourism, mostly from wildlife, makes up about 12% of Kenya’s GDP. Over its life, a live elephant generates 76 times more in tourism revenue than it does for its ivory, according to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation group.
But the group’s founder worries about the future.
“I doubt whether my great-grandchildren will actually be able to see wild elephants living a normal life,” said Daphne Sheldrick, the world-renowned Kenyan conservationist who named the charity after her late husband.
Some 1,338 rhinos were poached in Africa last year, a record number and the sixth year in a row that the number of poaching incidents has increased.
Elephants are in serious threat. Every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed for its tusks.
African governments are fighting the illegal trade in wildlife goods, but they have long puzzled over what to do with confiscated ivory and horn.
The potential income that could be generated from the sale has been difficult for many cash-strapped governments to deny.
The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allows for the trade of ivory under certain circumstances.
In 2008, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana auctioned 102 tons of stockpiled ivory, raising $15 million which was put toward elephant conservation initiatives.