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Illegal Ivory Trade on the Rise in Africa; Poaching for Elephant Tusks

Updated on January 14, 2016
Catherine Stolfi profile image

Catherine is an independent research consultant at NASA Langley with degrees in English, Biology, and Environmental Science (M.S.).


The impact of the illegal ivory trade dates back to the late 1970s when there was a sizeable amount of elephants being killed for their tusks. Poaching from 1979-1987 left only 600,000 African Elephants in the population down from 1.3 million. This means almost 100,00 elephants were killed each year in the 1980s.

The ban on the ivory trade was implemented in 1989 by CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. After its recognition worldwide in 1990, many of the major ivory markets were eliminated and the amount of elephants being killed for their tusks greatly declined in Africa in certain regions.

Despite this 60% decline of African Elephants, Poaching is now again on the rise.

This is due to there still being a demand for ivory around the world, most prominently in China and other Asian countries. According to a study by the University of Washington, the population of this species has not sufficiently recovered from the 1970s and 1980s poaching that removed 700,000 elephants from its population. African Elephants are now classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN), an internationally recognized listing of conservation status.

In 2011, 25,000 elephants were killed illegally, a troubling total. In December 2012, disturbing details emerged about 9 slaughtered in Kenya for their tusks with gruesome photos to accompany them. In January 2013, 12 more were poached in the same area. A spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the government-run wildlife protection service, stated how this was an unusual large amount for one incident.

It was revealed through 
a study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the government of the mid-African country Gabon that Poachers have killed more than 11,000 elephants in their Minkebe National Park Rainforest from 2004 to February 2012.


This is still a debated issue in Africa. Since elephant populations are actually on the rise in some South African countries many believe there, that if controlled, ivory trade could be economically beneficial to the country since there is still demand for it in others. However, corruption, lack of enforcement and lack of manpower make it difficult to control.

In truth, populations are only on the rise in certain regions but in great decline in others. The classification of Vulnerable means that this species is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve. Unfortunately, this information is also used to misdirect the issue and make it seem that this issue is not as extensive as it really is.

Many conservation organizations believe that making ivory illegal in other countries will assist in stopping illegal poaching in Africa. In Thailand, for example, selling ivory is legal, but a loophole has been found for poachers to launder the illegally obtained ivory through these Thai stores. By doing this they still render a profit. Petitions, such as Help Ban the Thai Ivory Trade created by the WWF, hopes to obtain enough signatures to close that loophole and finally end the slaughtering to prevent the African Elephants from becoming Endangered or even Extinct in the near future.

For more information, visit: Threats to African Elephants- World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), African elephant poaching threatens wildlife future by Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC News, Kenya/Nigeria,, World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)

Update 6/20/2014:

Historic Legislation has been passed in New York to ban the sale, trade and import of Ivory. The New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, stated, “With the passage of this bill, New York State has taken another step forward in the fight against the illegal ivory trade. We will not allow this dangerous and cruel industry to thrive in our State, and this bill ensures that by restricting the market for illegal ivory and adding tougher penalties for those who support it. I am proud that New York is taking this stand, and I urge government and community leaders across the globe to do the same.” I hope others states and regions will follow the lead made by New York State. This is truly an exciting time for those fighting to end this cruel practice.

Update 1/13/2016:

A huge victory for Elephants: Hong Kong has banned illegal Ivory sale. The US has also recently given a large amount of funding and resources to assist Africa in the fight against poachers and their illegal practices.

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    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      5 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Your hub adds to the growing concern over this awful trade. Poachers will kill anything if it brings them cash and a livelihood - they'll risk being shot, imprisonment, fines, injury etc etc - to keep the middle men happy.

      If you think back to the whale situation in the 1970s/80's - the public outrage at meaningless slaughter helped put a stop to mass extermination of innocent creatures but it took decades to achieve. Greenpeace also did their bit with action where it mattered.

      Elephants (and tigers) are the 'whales' of the 21st century. What's needed is diplomacy - the US and Europe talking to China - and outrage! I have been sponsoring a tiger recently through WWF - giving a bit of money each month - in the hope that something positive will emerge. We can only hope and do our bit. These magnificent creatures should be left alone in peace, like the whales who are now enjoying a kind of freedom.

      Votes and shares!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I knew that the ivory trade had been made illegal in some countries and I knew that poaching was a problem. However, I had no idea of the size of the problem. This is such a shame. It's a horrible thing when someone can kill such a large, beautiful beast, for nothing more than it's tusk. Voting this up and interesting! :)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      5 years ago from Florida

      Very informative. The elephant is such a majestic animal, and they love one another very much. They mourn their family when one of their own is killed. I'd certainly like to see this horrible practice stopped!

      Voted UP.

    • point2make profile image


      5 years ago

      Until we find a way to "punish" the countries that import ivory the battle will be a losing effort. The poachers are supplying a "need" and we have to find a way to make countries like China accept their responsibility in this matter. Elephants do not belong to anyone and therefore killing them for their tusks needs to be a major crime worldwide. Punishing the poachers without addressing the "demand" will ultimate fail. China, and the Asian nations, show very little interest in doing anything to stop this so maybe it is time that people from all over the world show China that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and not without consequences. Economics is a powerful tool as well as a weapon.....maybe we need to "step up"!

    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 

      5 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

      Hi Catherine, I agree with those above, this is such an important issue. It is illegal to trade in ivory (from country to country) and, in most countries, in tusks from other animals and mammals. In Hong Kong you can now buy artificial ivory carvings. (see my hub on elephants and ivory). To many people this artificial ivory is as beautiful or even more beautiful than real ivory.

      Elephant tusk poaching is the biggest issue now. The people doing the killing are making virtually nothing while the organizers and traders are making a great deal of money. There are many efforts to stop this. It is hard. People need to eat, people are greedy, people like to collect the "real" thing.

      Wish I could do more than just write an article.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Catherine,

      This is an issue I have followed and find so upsetting. To see there is still a demand for ivory in countries is shocking. Ivory should be banned worldwide and as Bill said, they were not created to supply us with trinkets. I have been a member and supporter of WWF and the amazing creatures that are dwindling is so sad. Thanks for highlighting these troubling statistics. Voted up, Interesting, shared on

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Catherine. I can' tell you how upset I get over this issue. These wonderful creatures were not put on this earth for us to kill so we could make trinkets out of their tusks. What a shame this is. The African countries that allow this to go on should be ashamed. This practice should be illegal worldwide. Voting up and sharing to help spread the message.

    • torrilynn profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi Catherine, thanks for informing myself and others about the illegal ivory trade that is going on in other countries. Thanks again. Voted up.

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 

      5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      Hi Catherine,

      Elephant tusks poaching has really been a major problem to African wildlife and especially in Kenya where there is a large population of Elephants. Although the government is implementing strict laws that aim to curb this trend, i still think a lot has to be done. Thanks for highlighting this, voted up, useful and shared.


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