African Elephant Ivory Trade

Elephants have experienced the harsh reality of this life where their existence remains a source of ivory for which they are tormented and brutally killed. Asian Elephants once thrived but the numbers have halved in the last three generations. Around 4,500 years ago, similar situations caused the extinction of Woolly Mammoths. Now the African Elephants face the same risk and numbers have declined largely and they are on the bridge of extinction. Before the international ban on ivory trade in 1989 the trade of ivory was so extreme that the African Elephant number’s declined from 1.3 million in 1979 to 600, 000 in 10 years.

The illegal trade of ivory has given rise to criminal syndicate groups. These syndicate organisations are cunning and work across borders. The price of ivory increases as it travels from consolidation hubs to Asian markets where value is at its peak. China is the ring leader in this trade. In China ivory is used for practical accessories including: tips for bows and spears, chopsticks, ivory jewellery and range of ornaments and many more.

Carved Ivory | Wikimedia commons


In the documentary ‘The Ivory Game’ Africa’s elephant poaching crisis is brought to wide public attention. The documentary shows the dark underworld of the ivory trade which is responsible for the slaughter of more than 30,000 elephants, and numerous park rangers, every year. From Africa to Asia and back again, the film traces the flow of the illegal trade.

Is politics playing a part in the trade of ivory? Corruption within the government in Africa has led to the trade continuing and the criminal networks continuing to thrive. Without the help of corrupt government officials to move the ivory across borders the networks would be starved and their activity would stagnate. The governments within Africa are showing promise and have burned some stock piles of ivory but more needs to be done to stop the criminal networks operating within Africa. Communities are being exploited within Africa to kill elephants for just a fraction of what it is sold for once it reaches the global market.

African ivory trade has also opened a pathway for terrorist organisations such as Al Shahab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria both which are a beneficiary of this trade. These groups threaten Africans regional security and are also a threat outside the continent. What is most worrying is that elephant ivory remains a source of funding for armed groups in Africa such as the Lord’s Resistance Army.

The country most affected by elephant poaching is Tanzania. Data, released by the Tanzanian government showed that between 2009 and 2014 the number of elephants dropped from 109,051 to 43,330. In 2013 the minister of natural resources and tourism in Tanzania claimed that politicians and rich people were involved in these sophisticated networks of ivory trade.

Most of the tangled routes of ivory trafficking make Spain the major transit route due to the fact that it is characterised by an extensive network of roads, railways, rapid transit, air routes, and ports.

Spain is a major entry point to Europe and a gateway to and from Africa hence making it an important link between European and African countries. Spain also has its trade interest with African countries. Out of the large amount of shipments coming to Spain, less than 5% shipment are  actually subjected to inspection.

The genocide of elephants is viewed as a ‘conservation concern’ but is it? Conservatries can make breeding work if there is stable population of the male to female ratio. However, with thousands of elephants being poached, there is instability in male to female ratios. This has led to a reduction in chances of breeding. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal and only produce a single offspring. Elephants therefore have a very low level of population increase. Thus, without remedial action and discipline this could lead to the extinction of the largest land mammal on earth. Considering Savannah Elephants are known to be keystone species this can be worrying.

All African countries need to reach an agreement when it comes to ivory trade. Harsher sentences need to be introduced and more robust wildlife protection polices need to be implemented. Trophy hunting is known to play a part in the conservation of Elephants but the key question is whether the money really goes towards conservation or whether it is   distributed between the government officials.

The governments of Namibia and Zambia were planning talks for presenting the proposal at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that they should be allowed to sell off the seized ivory tusk stock piles and sell ivory obtained from elephants dying naturally.  However on October 3rd 2016 both countries lost the proposal as they were outvoted at the CITES meeting. The good news is that Ivory trade in China is dying and prices have dropped significantly. The government aims to close all ivory retail outlets by the end of 2017.

Featured image | African Bush Elephant, Kruger National Park | Wikimedia commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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