Victims of the Ivory Trade

By, Sindhu Krishnamurthy

Ivory has been subject to human greed for centuries. Durable and easy to sculpt, ivory has historically held great value throughout major parts of the world. Unfortunately, however, this very popularity has long threatened elephant populations, the inescapable victims of ivory trade.

In 1989, measures were taken by international bodies to protect elephant populations. Elephants were added to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an amendment that banned the ivory trade. As a result, the trade fell drastically, and elephant populations grew.

However, in 2008, the convention loosened the restrictions of the amendment to permit the resale of ivory products from before the ban to Japan and China. In practice, it quickly became apparent that regulators were unable to distinguish the ivory from before the ban from ivory potentially obtained after the ban. International sellers of ivory took advantage in order to continue killing elephants for new ivory, thus re-establishing the ivory trade and, ultimately, the threat to elephant populations.

Now, poachers are even more active than before the ban. In fact, in 2012, Sudanese poachers raided Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjida National Park with machine guns to attack its elephant population. Cameroon’s military attempted to protect the elephants, but still hundreds of mutilated elephant corpses were left behind. A year later, poachers poisoned over 300 elephants in Zimbabwe’s Hangwe National Park with cyanide. Due to poaching, Africa’s elephant population is dropping drastically today. About 8% of Africa’s savanna elephants are killed every year with 15 lost per minute.

High in demand due to social and cultural values, 70% of ivory from tusks goes to China, according to New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettlemen. There, ivory is considered a luxury item and represents status, used in items like jewelry and chopsticks; reportedly, a pound of chopsticks can cost as much as $1,500 in the black market.

Evidently, as long as the demand for ivory is so high, it will be difficult to halt the trade. However, there is still hope in the horizon as rules and regulations are increasingly put in place to lower international demand. The animal rights group Save The Elephants explains that in China, “[a]n economic slowdown has resulted in fewer people able to afford luxury goods; a crack-down on corruption is dissuading business people from buying expensive ivory items as ‘favors’ for government officials, and the Chinese government has made a strong commitment to close down the nation’s legal ivory trade.” China has outlawed ivory and stated that it will end trade by late 2017. While the future of black market activity is uncertain, the ban and reported decrease in demand is sure to slow down the trade significantly.

Animal rights organizations are also determined to stop the trade. Save The Elephants, for one, is dedicated to helping elephants thrive again. Based in Kenya, it studies elephants’ behaviors and develops tracking techniques in order to better protect them. Another organization is Elephants Without Borders, which researches elephants and spreads awareness on the situation. Both organizations are funded by philanthropist Paul Allen, and they both accept donations. Through donation, higher awareness, and governmental action, elephants can be brought closer to a world where they can be safe.