NAIROBI, Kenya -- Kenyan authorities have built towering pyres of more than 100 tons of elephant tusks that will be burned on Saturday, in what wildlife officials believe will be the largest single destruction of ivory in history.
In front of the tusks are illegal ornaments made from ivory, such as a Chinese warrior on horseback with his fist in the air.
As local conservation groups and media visited the ivory-burning site in Nairobi National Park on Thursday, workers were putting the finishing touches to the stacks of ivory as rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service stood guard nearby.
The ivory is now piled into some dozen giant pyres, ready to be lit when the Giants Club wildlife summit being held in Laikipia ends on Saturday.
Dignitaries led by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta -- who last year set fire to 15 tons of ivory -- are expected to light a fuel gel which will flow into the center of each pyre and ignite pieces of confiscated endangered African sandalwood. A mixture of diesel and kerosene will be pumped through pipes into each pyre, creating a sufficiently high temperature to incinerate the ivory, a process expected to last many days before everything is reduced to ashes.
The 105 tons of ivory and over 1 ton of rhino horn were transported in shipping containers from across Kenya, representing the vast majority of the country's stockpile.
Conservationists worry that there is a a real threat of elephants becoming extinct in the next 50 years because of poaching bankrolled by the illegal trade in ivory.
Some 25,000 elephants a year are now being lost to poachers in Africa. Despite laws banning the harvest and sale of ivory, it remains a powerful status symbol in China and the Far East, where it is used commonly to make artworks and religious icons.
Neighboring Tanzania has been identified as a key hotspot for elephant poachers. The elephant population declined by 60 percent to about 40,000 since 2009, according to a census announced last year.
In January, poachers in Tanzania fired on a helicopter on an anti-poaching mission and killed the British pilot.