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Asian Crime Syndicates Based in Africa Fuel Illegal Ivory Surge

WASHINGTON– Asian-run organized crime syndicates based in Africa are behind the increase in illegal trade in elephant ivory, according to a study by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN - The World Conservation Union.  The report is based on an analysis of almost 12,400 ivory seizure cases from 82 countries recorded since 1989 in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) – the world’s largest database of elephant product seizure records.

The study identified the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Nigeria as the three nations most heavily implicated as the sources of ivory in this illegal trade. One exception is Ethiopia, which has effectively clamped down on its domestic ivory market.  

“Central Africa is currently hemorrhaging ivory and these three countries are major conduits for trafficking illicit ivory from the region to international markets, particularly inAsia,” said Tom Milliken, Director of TRAFFIC’s Africa program and the principal author of the study.

World-wide, the number of ivory seizures averages 92 cases a month – or three per day. Large-scale ivory seizures (of 1 ton or more) have increased both in number and in size in recent years – from 17 between 1989 and 1997 to 32 between 1998 and 2006.

Markets in China create a high demand for illicit ivory, which arrives either directly or through ports such as Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Japan and Thailand are also important final destinations.  Ivory often flows through the Philippines.  Together, these seven countries and territories account for 62 per cent of the ivory recovered in the 49 largest seizure cases recorded by ETIS.

“This demonstrates greater sophistication, organization and finance behind the illegal movement of ever larger volumes of ivory from Africa to Asia,” said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America. “China needs to reach out to the growing Chinese communities in Africa with a clear message that involvement in illegal ivory trade will not be tolerated.”

There has been significant improvement in law enforcement efforts and policing of local markets in mainland China, but ETIS records show that Chinese citizens have been arrested, detained or absconded in at least 126 significant ivory seizure cases in 22 African elephant range states.

For further information, please contact:

Tom Milliken, Director of TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, Harare, Zimbabwe, t +263 4 252 533, 

Crawford Allan, director, TRAFFIC North America, 202, 778-9517,

Richard Thomas, Communications Coordinator at TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK, t +44 1223 279 068,

 Joanna Benn, Communications Manager, WWF Global Species Programme, t +39 06 84497 212,


•          TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature.

•          The full report, The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) and the illicit trade in ivory: A report to the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES by T. Milliken, R. W. Burn and L. Sangalakula: TRAFFIC East/Southern Africa, 2007, is available from:

•          The establishment of ETIS was mandated under CITES in 1997 to monitor illicit trade in ivory and to assess whether any limited resumption of ivory trade would have negative impacts on elephant populations. Since its inception, ETIS has received funding from the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the CITES Secretariat and the European Union.

•          The analysis was carried out with the assistance of the Statistical Services Centre of the University of Reading, UK.

•          Between 1989 and 1997, all elephant populations were listed in Appendix I of CITES, which imposed a global ban on international commercial trade in elephant products. Subsequently, CITES Parties have twice approved limited, conditional one-off sales of ivory from four southern African countries (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) whose elephant populations have been transferred to Appendix II.


Known in the United Statesas World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world. For more information on World Wildlife Fund, visit