Kolkata: Close on the heels of Kenya, which recently set on fire over a hundred ton of its ivory stockpile, experts in India are mulling a similar provision to destroy the "white gold" to send a strong message against poaching.
"We ask the state forest departments to burn it (ivory) publicly or in the presence of the media," Project Elephant Director R K Srivastava said. However, he admitted that few states in the country had so far come forward to make an ivory bonfire.
Part of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Project Elephant provides financial and technical support to all the 16 major elephant bearing states of the country.
Karnataka's Chief Wildlife Warden M B Hosmat said they had mooted a proposal to burn its ivory stockpile but the proposal is waiting government's approval.
"It will be for the first time that we'll burn it in our state. But the proposal is still in a preliminary stage. It will take some time for us to implement it," he said.
Karnataka is estimated to have the largest quantity of ivory in India followed by Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Odisha as they have the largest number of tusker population.
Prof R Sukumar, well-known expert on Asian elephants, estimates that India must be having around 30 tons of ivory which is growing every year.
"Most of it comes from natural death of tuskers. Some is also seized from poachers through the forest department, customs and police," said the ecologist who works at the Centre for Ecological Sciences in the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
There are chances of pilferage from the stock in custody of various state or central authorities as there is a heavy demand for ivory which is used for ornamental and decorative purposes.
In the largest ever pile of ivory set alight anywhere in the world, Kenya had recently destroyed 105 tons of ivory including those confiscated from poachers and accruing naturally from mortality. It was done as a demonstration against illegal ivory trade and poaching claiming 30,000 elephants every year.
Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which India is a signatory, ivory trading is banned. Experts are divided over whether India should also be following the African model.
Sukumar has suggested part of the stock should be used for scientific research work and DNA bar-coding by institutions. Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, said India needed samples of ivory for training of law enforcement agencies.
"Rather than burning it we should index it and keep it safely. It should be distributed for training purposes. Even sniffer dogs should be trained on ivory detection. Then we also need it for DNA bar-coding purposes which will also help in tracking poaching," he said.
Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Varun Goswami, however, said it was a good idea to destroy it because ivory had no use besides being ornamental.
In India, poaching of tuskers was at its peak during the eighties and nineties in southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where 2,000 pachyderms were killed during the two-decade-long period.
Last year, there was again a resurgence of poaching as around 30 tuskers were found to have become victims of the market demand. India is estimated to have about 30,000-35,000 elephants. Not all male elephants have tusks....