Shutting down ivory markets for good

by ZSL on

Elephants need our help, or we are in danger of losing them forever. Paul De Ornellas, ZSL's Assistant Programme Manager (Africa), blogs about ivory poaching and how ZSL is helping to secure a future for these incredible animals.

African elephants are facing a crisis; around 30,000 are being poached every year across the continent to supply the illegal trade in ivory. At the turn of the 20th century Africa was likely home to several million elephants – today we think there are only around 450,000 individuals left and the current rates of poaching mean that in coming decades elephants could disappear completely from much of the continent. 

African elephants

At ZSL we work to protect elephants in three of the most important sites for them in Africa; the greater Tsavo system in Kenya, the tropical forests in south eastern Cameroon and the West African savannah in Northern Benin.

We work directly with governments to combat poaching – equipping and training rangers and providing the day to day technical advice to strengthen law enforcement activities. This work is absolutely crucial but it’s not the only thing we need to do if we’re to secure a future for the African elephant.

The poaching of elephants is driven by global demand for ivory and to stop the poaching we have to control this demand. This will involve campaigns to change the behaviour of people who currently buy ivory and, crucially, making sure that all ivory trade is illegal. You might think that this is already the case? In 1989 in response to a poaching crisis in that decade, the global community agreed through CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to implement a worldwide ban on the international trade in ivory. To this day that ban remains in place, however within some countries a domestic market continues.

China is by far the biggest market for ivory but the trade is global, the EU is one of the biggest exporters of ivory, from countries including the UK and Germany.

Historically the UK was one of the biggest markets for ivory globally and although this is much diminished, Britain still has an active ivory market. This is typically sold as ‘antique’ but the challenges in regulating domestic markets like this provides a route for laundering illegal ivory and sends out a message that trading ivory is still ok.

Ivory marking for traceability in Djoum, Cameroon

In the coming months the global community has the chance to close down these domestic markets and ensure a total ban on the ivory trade that is threatening the future of elephants – over 80% of African range states support this initiative. Countries such as USA and India have enacted domestic market bans and China has also committed to do so.

At the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, ZSL co-sponsored a successful motion calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets. Only a small number of countries opposed the motion and although this is not legally binding it does indicate the level of support this important initiative has globally.

The major next step is at CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg. Between the 25th of September and 5th of October parties have the opportunity to take action to close down ivory markets completely – both domestic and international and make a major contribution to securing a future for the African elephant. 



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