Stopping Elephant Ivory Demand


Smuggled ivory seized in Zhuhai, China

Each year, at least 20,000 African elephants are illegally killed for their tusks. A decade-long resurgence in demand for elephant ivory, particularly in parts of Asia, has fueled this rampant poaching epidemic. The elephant ivory trade not only threatens the very survival of this iconic species and causes broader ecological consequences, but also endangers the lives and livelihoods of local people and undermines national and regional security.

Promisingly, a historic opportunity emerged to stop the African elephant poaching crisis: governments inititated concerted action to address this wildlife crime. The United States implemented a near-total ban on elephant ivory trade in 2016, and the United Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other elephant ivory markets followed suit. Most significantly, China took the remarkable step of closing its legal domestic ivory market at the end of 2017. Other Asian countries with open elephant ivory trade are under substantial pressure to take action.

WWF and its partners have successfully driven international action at the highest levels that, along with diplomatic and public pressure from all sides, contributed to the game-changing China ban. Now, we are working to ensure the ban is successful by eliminating remaining consumer demand for elephant ivory and black-market sales. A proliferation of trade and demand for illegal elephant ivory outside China could seriously undermine the effectiveness of China's ban.

WWF is addressing the root of the problem by engaging directly with elephant ivory consumers and working with other governments to ensure the imminent closure of open elephant ivory markets, as well as working to understand the underlying motivations of elephant ivory buyers to develop strategies to influence them. Our goal is to create a new social norm that buying illegal elephant ivory products is socially unacceptable.

There is an entirely separate and legal trade of walrus ivory, which is culturally and economically important to Indigenous communities in the Arctic. The sustainable use and sale of walrus ivory by Alaska Native peoples has not had the same negative impacts caused by the illegal trade of elephant ivory.

Leigh Henry on making conservation policy that matters

As WWF’s policy lead on wildlife conservation, Leigh Henry has played a key role in the organization's efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade.
Leigh Henry

Why It Matters

  • China's historic ban has significantly reduced ivory sales, but one consumer group—people who regularly travel outside China—have the highest intention of continuing to purchase elephant ivory post-ban. Because so many popular destinations around China, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, have active elephant ivory markets, this is a significant concern. WWF is focusing on these Chinese travelers during their trips to dissuade them from buying elephant ivory.

  • The illegal elephant ivory trade is driven by transnational organized crime syndicates. They devastate elephant populations and undermine the rule of law, destabilize governments, and promote corruption. Rangers and local communities are often caught in the crossfire of wildlife crime. Around 100 rangers globally are killed annually in the line of duty.

  • Ending the demand for elephant ivory will reduce elephant poaching and alleviate the strain that poaching puts on local populations and enforcement agents.

What WWF Is Doing


Ivory in the Arctic

Around the Arctic, many remote Indigenous communities depend on walrus for subsistence purposes. Walrus are culturally, spiritually, and economically important for these communities, and the tusks are often carved into jewelry and artwork. Learn more

Amplifying Efforts Through Corporate Engagement

We are working with leading online retailers, social media platforms, tourism companies, and creative agencies. Strong partnerships are already in place with the travel and e-commerce sectors, with commitments to avoid promoting, handling, or selling elephant ivory.

Changing Consumer Behavior

Chinese consumers have typically been the driving demographic for elephant ivory sales globally since 2005. WWF supports market research including annual surveys of consumers to better understand consumer attitudes and desire for elephant ivory so that we can change social norms around elephant ivory and reduce demand. Through this research, WWF is able to identify the demographics of elephant ivory purchasers and consumers, understand their underlying motivations and develop effective strategies to influence them.

One promising approach is using location-specific messages pushed out on popular social media platforms as likely consumers are moving around known elephant ivory markets in Asia in real-time. By connecting with them at potential purchase points like this, WWF is able to share messages known to demotivate elephant ivory buyers, such as flagging the deadly toll on elephants and the legal risks of trying to smuggle elephant ivory souvenirs from one country into another.

At the same time, closing markets and promoting the law makes it harder to find elephant ivory and deters law-abiding citizens from engaging in illegal activity.

Closing Elephant Ivory Markets

China's elephant ivory ban is a historic milestone in the ongoing effort to save an iconic species. But even with China's markets closed, markets elsewhere remain open and continue to attract consumers. And as more and more Chinese travel internationally—before COVID-19 nearly 200 million Chinese tourists traveled abroad each year—incidents of elephant ivory smuggling were on the rise. This access to elephant ivory outside China could seriously undermine the effectiveness of China's 2017 elephant ivory ban unless governments address it. Closing the markets that sell elephant ivory and largely exist to serve Chinese nationals—those in Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, for example—will help slow elephant ivory trafficking.

WWF is working directly with these countries to support the closing of their elephant ivory markets and leverage international policy and diplomacy channels. By tackling these markets now as part of a pan-Asian approach, WWF aims to leverage China's actions to ban the elephant ivory trade to prevent further displacement of the mainland China ivory trade to nearby countries.

NOTE: This page refers specifically to elephant ivory. While many people outside the Arctic often associate ivory with elephants, the term is also used for items that come from other species, and has different stipulations. Learn more


  • The Legacy of the USAID ROUTES Partnership

    For over six years, the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership brought together government agencies, law enforcement, non-governmental organizations, and transport sector companies to disrupt wildlife trafficking through legal transportation supply chains in the aviation industry.

  • Reducing Elephant Ivory Demand Among Travelers

    Research has found that regular outbound Chinese travelers have the highest interest in purchasing elephant ivory despite the ban in China. Their travel gives them access to ivory in some of the destinations most popular with Chinese travelers where elephant ivory is still on the shelves. To achieve the goal of the ban—saving Africa’s elephants—we must curb consumer purchase of ivory outside China.