Elephant ivory has long been sought after by man. It was in the 1970’s though that Asian demand for ivory surged, taking a heavy toll on elephants, especially those in East African countries. In the 70’s and 80’s the ivory trade flourished and elephant populations plummeted even in protected areas where elephants should have been safe. In 1989 CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international agreement between countries formed to regulate the trade of animal and plant specimens, put into place a ban on all international trade of African elephant ivory.
Following the ban in 1989, elephant populations began to rebound in some range states, although rampant poaching continued in others. The Kenyan government burned 12 tons of stockpiled ivory in a public display condemning the ivory trade. Then in 1992 the Zambian government followed in Kenya’s footsteps, burning 9 tons of ivory sending a message to the world that elephants were more valuable alive than dead. By the late 1990’s elephant populations continued to recover. Then in 1997 CITES downlisted elephants from Appendix 1, prohibiting all international trade, to Appendix II which permitted regulated international trade again under special conditions. Upon downlisting, CITES gave permission to Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia to sell 50 tons of stockpiled ivory to Asia which sold in 1999 per the agreement.
From 2002 on, massive shipments of illegal ivory were seized entering Asia. Then in 2007, CITES again approved a sale of over 100 tons of ivory to Asia from four African countries but put a hold on any further sales of ivory for the next 9 years. Many African countries opposed the sale. Per the 2007 agreement, in 2009 China imported 62 tons of ivory. Over the next 2 years, the largest seizures of illegal ivory were made since the 1989 ban and poaching levels increased going against the concept that allowing the sale of ivory would reduce demand and decrease poaching. As ivory demand in Asia continued to increase, 2011 saw the largest seizures recorded in over 20 years.
In early 2012 the poaching epidemic resulted in international outcry when an estimated 600 elephants, adult and young, were brutally gunned down in Cameroon by poachers from Chad and Sudan. Poaching and seizure incidents continued to escalate. In June, the government of Gabon burned nearly 5 tons of ivory in an effort to curb poaching in the country. Soon after, Kenya again burned an ivory stockpile estimated to be worth $16 million US dollars. This same year, Tanzania withdrew an application to sell over 100 tons of ivory to China and Japan.
In March of 2013, the international elephant community watched as CITES met in Bangkok for their 63rd Meeting of Parties with hopes that the elephant crisis would be at the forefront of issues tackled. Instead, efforts to curb the sale of ivory was voted down by parties leaving the international community in disbelief. CITES identified ‘Countries of Concern’ and requested that they submit action plans by May 15th of 2013 outlining their plan to reduce the demand for ivory but with no guidelines for doing so. A deadline of July 2014 was also set for countries to show progress towards those efforts. In the meantime approximately 100 elephants continue to be killed each day in Africa to supply the demand. Time is running out for the elephant.
Read more about the ivory trade in the Environmental Investigation Agency (eia) paper titled Lethal Experiment: How the CITES-approved ivory sale led to increased elephant poaching here. For news articles surrounding the ivory trade please see our News page.
Once elephants are gone we can never bring them back. Join our cause and become part of the solution by purchasing a Burn The Ivory | Save The Elephant bracelet here. 100% of donations and proceeds from the sale of bracelets go to funding on the ground elephant conservation efforts, administering our programs, and developing film and educational materials aimed at ending the demand for ivory. Donate here.