NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Leaders of the African nation of Kenya, burned more than than 220,000 pounds of elephant and rhino ivory.
Officials said that poachers, armed with advanced weapons and connected to vast new markets across the world, are threatening to exterminate elephants and rhinos.
The Kenyan government said it is aggressively protecting these rare animals struggling to stay alive.
"But let us also be clear: poaching and trafficking wildlife is now a branch of international crime," said Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan President. "The fight against it will be won by alliances across nations and continents. The first step must be closer cooperation, especially among the states that hold Africa's remaining elephant herds."
"Gabo is the home today of more than half of surviving forest elephants despite having lost over the last ten years more than 10,000 elephants," said Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon. "But even in Gabon, the value of a forest elephant ivory has sparked an alarming increase in poaching. Poaching has turned elephants into refugees."
President Uhuru Kenyatta lit a fuel gel, which went into the center of each pile of ivory, and ignited the confiscated contraband. It was a dramatic statement against the illegal trade of ivory and ivory-related products from endangered species.
The destruction took place at Nairobi National Park, and involved thousands of gallons of fuel.A mixture of diesel and kerosene was pumped through pipes into each pile, creating a sufficiently high temperature to incinerate the ivory.
It was a process expected to last many days before everything is reduced to ashes.
The tusks were transported in shipping containers from across Kenya, and represented the vast majority of the country's stockpile.
Poaching is still a big problem in Africa, with more than 30,000 elephants being killed in each year.
Conservationists worry that there is a real threat of elephants becoming extinct in the next 50 years, because of poaching bankrolled by the illegal trade in ivory, and fueled especially by demand in China.
"As President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have underscored in their visits, the United States is committed to remaining a steadfast partner with Kenya to combat the illegal trade in wildlife," said Heather Higginbottom, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.