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Republic of Congo burns five tons of illegal ivory

By Danielle Haynes
Nearly five tons of elephant ivory was burned Wednesday during a ceremony in the Republic of Congo. Photo courtesy the Wildlife Conservation Society
Nearly five tons of elephant ivory was burned Wednesday during a ceremony in the Republic of Congo. Photo courtesy the Wildlife Conservation Society

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of the Congo, April 29 (UPI) -- Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso set fire to nearly five tons of elephant ivory in a symbolic gesture at an illegal wildlife trade conference Wednesday.

Accompanied by Chad President Idriss Déby, Nguesso burned the seized ivory as part of a ceremony to mark the first meeting of the International Conference on Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa.

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"We applaud the government of the Republic of Congo and President Denis Sassou Nguesso for hosting the first-ever Africa-wide event to develop a strategy to put an end to wildlife trafficking in fauna and flora on the continent," said John Robinson, Wildlife Conservation Society executive vice president. "The four-day conference provides us with a plan for tackling a problem that threatens the world's natural heritage.   "It's fitting that we mark this gathering with a burning of seized hardwood timber and the country's entire stockpile of illegal ivory totaling 4.7 metric tons. The Republic of Congo joins a growing list of countries opting to burn or crush ivory stockpiles as a means of sending a global message on the plight of elephants and a warning to would-be traffickers."

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The global trade in illegal ivory is worth an estimated $23 billion a year. The ivory from one elephant can fetch up to $18,000 in Thailand and China, where it heavily in demand. In 2013 alone, 20,000 elephants were killed for their tusks.

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Déby said there were an estimated 50,000 elephants in Chad some 50 years ago. Now there are 1,500.

"Poaching has gone beyond national borders and is part of an international mafia trade," he said. "Chad is completely committed to the fight against the scourge, not only in Africa but at the international level and the world."

Leaders at the conference will produce a draft action plan to protect wildlife in Africa. That document will then be taken to an African Union summit held in June in South Africa.

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