On June 2, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced legislative changes creating a near-total ban on the import of any African elephant ivory.
US Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell encouraged countries around the world to follow suit.
“We hope other nations will act quickly and decisively to stop the flow of blood ivory by implementing similar regulations, which are crucial to ensuring our grandchildren and their children know these iconic species,” Ms Jewell said in a statement.
Dr Biggs said the simplifying the argument is tokenistic and fails to address the real concerns.
“[Zimbabwe and Namibia] would like to open up discussion so they can be in a position to sell ivory again.
“That has been impacted recently by changes to US laws and they feel that is reducing their ability to get revenue for conservation and for communities around their conservations.
“Some would argue the tightening down of domestic ivory in the US is very symbolic and will do nothing.
“I’ve got colleagues who feel those domestic restrictions in the US are very, very destructive and counter-productive to elephant conservation.
“Their arguments are that there are countries in Africa that have successfully increased their elephant numbers based on, to some extent, historic ivory exports and also trophy hunting of elephants.”
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing
The argument for or against ivory burns does not need to be an ‘all or nothing’ exercise, nor does the solution need to reinvent the wheel. Dr Biggs said the end goal of elephant conservation should be at the centre of the conversation, rather than what how to deal with the by-products of illicit ivory trade.
“These are people who are very passionate about elephant conservation, which I am as well.
“They feel very strongly about closing down all markets for ivory, as the best way to conserve elephants.
“I’m not sure I agree with that as a good strategy,” he said.
“I’m not saying burning ivory by definition, in principle, is a bad idea.
“It’s critical it is tracked and monitored and it’s critical where consumers or purchasers of ivory are, to understand how they are responding to these events.”
By the numbers
100,000: elephants killed in a recent three year period – or 1 every 15 minutes.
200 grams: amount of ivory allowed to be sold in the US – only in some items such as musical instruments, furniture or firearms – under the 2016 changes.
30 per cent: number of tree species in central African forest relying on elephants for seed dispersal and germination.
23-45 kilograms: average weight of elephants tusks.
1 million: square miles of Africa available for elephants to roam, (down from 3 million in 1980).
1.3 million: African elephant population in 1980.
470,000: African elephant population today.