The Ivory trade has a long, dark history with its roots in the Far East - the effects of which continue to plague African elephant populations across the continent. A ban on international trade was introduced by CITES in 1989. Prior to this, some 100,000 elephants were being slaughtered yearly by poachers. But poaching activity has peaked again in the last decade. Around 20,000 to 30,000 elephants are lost to poaching each year to satisfy the demand for ivory.
The Grave Situation for Elephants
The Great Elephant Census concluded in 2015 reflected an estimate of 352,271 savanna elephants left in the wild – that’s a 30% drop in 7 years with Tanzania and Mozambique hit the hardest. High poaching rates in these countries can be attributed to weak law enforcement, corruption, and insufficient anti-poaching initiatives among other issues.
Interestingly, in other parts of Africa, elephant population numbers are stable and even growing in some regions. The highest populations of elephants occur in Southern Africa, with Botswana and Zimbabwe having the highest numbers.
What is Ivory used for?
Ivory has been used since ancient times to manufacture ornaments, jewelry, tools and even piano keys. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine but to a far lesser extent than rhino horns. China is the world’s largest ivory market, followed by Hong Kong and the U.S.
Banning Ivory Trade
The global ban placed by CITES in 1989 was counteracted by some southern African countries that re-opened trade over certain periods to enable sale from stockpiles. A study conducted by National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that legal trade stimulates demand and encourages black market trading. The study reflects that the 2008 ivory sale resulted in a 66% increase in black market production.
Last month, China announced that they will cease all ivory trade by 31 December 2017.
Research published by WWF and The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC) hypothesizes that banning trade is a viable step to reduce threats to African elephants and could set the precedent for other countries to follow suit.
The Way Forward
While closing legal markets is a major step forward, this alone will not end the crises so long as there is a demand. Intensive awareness campaigns, demand reduction initiatives, and international cooperation & commitment are imperative so that we continue on this trajectory to ensure the continued survival of this magnificent African icon.