Uncontrolled ivory poaching from 1979-1989 killed half the population of elephants in Africa – from 1.3 million in the late 1960’s to under 600,000. (note: there are more dire numbers available now for current populations country by country, but I haven’t included them - LB)
The Ivory Trade Ban was enacted in 1989 by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and it worked. CITES is a UN sponsored group of 175 member countries that meets every three years to discuss and decide on proposals about endangered animals and plants. At first, the trade in ivory dramatically declined, which gave the decimated herds of elephants a start at recovery.
The original trade ban was accompanied by worldwide media campaigns about the slaughter and it felt like the whole world truly listened and was outraged. Quite shortly, however, all of that was reversed, and the trade has steadily risen ever since. South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe lobbied for so-called “one-off” sales of their stockpiled ivory stating that the money would be used for conservation purposes, and CITES granted this in 1997, with the first sales occurring in 1999. More of these “one-off” sales were granted by CITES members in 2002 and 2007.
Each time, poaching soared. The lifting of the ban for these special sales has had the effect of sanctioning illegal trade in tusks and increasing poaching once again. Now, whenever CITES meets and discusses ivory trade, poaching rises ever higher.
The demand for ivory has not decreased, but increased, as Asian markets grow, more carvers are employed, and a steady stream of illegal ivory exists. The value of ivory is so high, that now it’s become an item traded like illegal drugs, with complex markets and supply lines.
Even with an ivory ban in place and global public opinion strongly favoring enforcement of the ban, the demand for ivory continues, perhaps stronger than ever. The money made through the illegal ivory trade is a key factor in losing the fight to stop poaching and smuggling poached ivory. Every year thousands of elephants are killed for their ivory Fighting the ivory trade is a constant challenge as those who wish to sell ‘white gold’ put elephants under further pressure.
Every year, thousands of elephants are brutally killed for their ivory. Estimates are that at least 8% (36,000) of the remaining elephants are being poached each year. The slaughter is horrifying, poachers shoot elephants with automatic weapons and hack off their tusks with axes and even chainsaws. Tragically the ivory trade has a long and bloody history. Ivory trade history 1979-89: uncontrolled ivory poaching from 1979 to 1989 halved Africa’s elephant population from 1.3 million to 600,000. 1989: CITES voted to ban the ivory trade.
The price of ivory crashed and markets in Europe and USA closed. But a handful of African countries wanted to resume trade. 1997: After strong lobbying, CITES approved the sale of 40 tonnes of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Japan. Conservationists predicted that poaching would continue 1998-99: at least 6,000 elephants were killed and 17,000kg of ivory seized by customs. Established norms show that seized ivory represents only 10-20% of the total slaughter, campaigning for stopping the trade continued. 2000: CITES agreed ‘no more trade’ despite pressure from four southern African countries to sell more ivory to Japan....