Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, African elephants are still being poached in large numbers. Tens of thousands of elephants are being killed every year for their ivory tusks. The ivory is often carved into ornaments and jewellery – China is the biggest consumer market for such products.
The ban on international trade was introduced in 1989 by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) after years of unprecedented poaching. In the 1980s, an estimated 100,000 elephants were being killed per year and up to 80% of herds were lost in some regions.
The ban allowed some populations to recover, especially where elephants were adequately protected.
But there has been an upsurge in poaching and illegal ivory trafficking in recent years, driven by increasing demand in Asia, which has led to steep declines in forest elephant numbers and some savannah elephant populations.
Insufficient anti-poaching capacity, weak law enforcement and corruption undermine efforts to stop the poaching and trafficking in some countries.
Around 20,000 African elephants were killed last year for their tusks, more than were born. Chinese wealth is financing a hunger for ivory that threatens to bring an end to wild elephants within our lifetime.
There has never been a more dangerous time to be an elephant. Not during the industrial pillaging of the colonial era, nor the chaotic African and Asian independence movements that sparked a 1970s poaching boom, has an elephant been more likely to fall to a gun.