Massive Illegal Elephant Ivory Seizures in Asia and Africa

Illicit trade in elephant ivory has been escalating since 2004 around the world. Experts believe that easily accessible markets selling illegal elephant ivory and Chinese buying power are the leading drivers behind Africa’s elephant poaching crisis. Malaysia has emerged as a new smuggling transit point for shipments.

Massive seizures have taken place in Asia and Africa including:

  • September 5, 2011 - The Royal Malaysian Customs seized two containers filled with 695 elephant tusks. The shipment was labeled “recycled craft plastic,” originated in Tanzania and was destined for China. The tusks, weighing close to 4,500 pounds, were packed in gunny sacks and hidden under the plastic material.

  • August 29, 2011 - Customs officers in Hong Kong reported the seizure of 794 pieces of ivory tusks weighing almost 4,000 pounds, concealed inside a shipping container that arrived from Malaysia. The consignment was declared as “non-ferrous products for factory use,” but contained African elephant ivory concealed under stones.

  • August 26, 2011 - Police on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, seized 1,041 elephant tusks hidden in a shipment heading for Malaysia. The ivory was hidden in a container of anchovies to attempt to discourage investigation with its strong smell. The seizure could represent a minimum of 500 dead elephants.

Call for action to stop illegal ivory trade
WWF and TRAFFIC are calling for better law enforcement along the entire smuggling chain from Africa to Asia. Nearly 17,000 ivory and other elephant product seizures have been reported since 1989 according to the official elephant ivory trade monitoring system called the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).  ETIS is operated by TRAFFIC for the international wildlife trade treaty called CITES.

The analysis of ETIS data by TRAFFIC shows:

  • More elephant ivory is being smuggled out of Africa through Tanzania than any other country
  • Malaysia is now a prominent transit route of African elephant ivory
  • The United States has an illegal market for elephant ivory, recent seizures show that the detections of illegal imports by US Fish and Wildlife Service are increasing

What is WWF doing to help?
WWF is supporting anti-poaching operations in Tanzania and Mozambique to:

  • prevent elephants from being killed for ivory
  • stop the poachers and middle men involved in elephant ivory trafficking  

TRAFFIC and the China Wildlife Conservation Association are also reaching out to Chinese nationals living in Africa through Chinese language broadcasts with the message of “Stop the illegal trade in ivory.”

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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