JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Mozambique burned 2.5 tonnes of seized ivory and rhino horn on Monday as part of a campaign to end an illicit trade that is fueling a wave of big animal poaching in Africa, a conservation group said.
The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said in a statement that over 2,400 kgs (5,280 lbs) of ivory and 86 pieces of rhino horn weighing 193.5 kgs were put to the torch, in the first major destruction of rhino horn ever.
"Today sends a signal. Mozambique will not tolerate poachers, traffickers and the organized criminals which employ and pay them to kill our wildlife and threaten our communities," Mozambique environment minister Celso Correia was quoted as saying.
A recent survey showed Mozambique lost around 10,000 elephants, or half its elephant population, over the past five years to poachers who have been feeding demand for ivory from fast-growing Asian economies such as China.
Neighboring South Africa lost a record 1,125 rhinos last year, up 20 percent from 2013, as poachers looked to meet surging consumption in Vietnam, where the animal's horn is coveted as a key ingredient in traditional medicines.
The stockpiles burnt on Monday included 65 pieces of rhino horn that Mozambican police found in the home of a Chinese national earlier this year - the largest such seizure.
Destroying such stockpiles is more than symbolic.
A global ban on the trade in ivory and ivory horn could eventually be lifted.
But countries that destroy their stocks - instead of saving them to sell if trade is legalized - are signaling their opposition to such a move.
In the last three months the Republic of Congo, China, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have publicly destroyed ivory stocks.
Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Joe Brock