Elephants Under Increased Threat From Illegal Ivory Trade

Elephant ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons—a figure that represents 2,500 elephants—was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011.

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, recorded these major cases through the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). The illegal elephant ivory trade monitoring system holds details of over 17,000 reported ivory and other elephant product seizures since 1989.

“In 23 years of compiling ivory seizure data for ETIS, this is the worst year ever for large ivory seizures—2011 has truly been a horrible year for elephants,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s elephant expert. “The escalating large ivory quantities involved in 2011 reflect both a rising demand in Asia and the increasing sophistication of the criminal gangs behind the trafficking.”

A long battle against poaching
African elephant populations declined significantly in the 1970s and 1980s because of poaching for illegal ivory. The international elephant ivory trade was banned by CITES in 1989 and within the U.S. that same year.  Some elephant populations have begun to recover, but poaching continues to be a major threat to their survival.

On December 21, 2011, 727 elephant ivory pieces were discovered at the port of Mombasa, Kenya. The elephant ivory was concealed inside a container destined for Asia. Earlier in the month, Malaysian authorities seized 1.4 metric tons of elephant ivory concealed inside a shipping container enroute from Kenya to Cambodia.

Malaysia has emerged as a key transit country in six of this year’s cases. TRAFFIC first drew attention to this route in 2009. Most shipments end up in China or Thailand.

WWF’s local to global solutions
WWF supports grassroots efforts to curb poaching and helps governments strengthen law enforcement. At the same time, WWF works to increase awareness of the issue and help drive down demand for elephant ivory. WWF and TRAFFIC are calling for higher vigilance and stricter enforcement of laws in order to break the illegal elephant ivory smuggling links from Africa to Asia.

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NOTE: This story 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