2011 Poaching Review, Part 1: Ivory Seizures Highest Since Trade Ban

The driving force behind this rise is the same culprit that is behind the rise in rhino poaching – increasing demand in Asia.

By Yathin S Krishnappa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Image: By Yathin S Krishnappa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

During the 1970s elephants in Africa were widespread, numbering around 1.2 million individuals. Sadly, numbers plummeted in the 1980s when ivory poaching was rife. Eventually a ban on the trade of ivory was introduced in 1989 when numbers had fallen to 600,000.

Today, the African elephant numbers just 450,000 and is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In 2011 more ivory was seized than in any year since the 1989 ban. There were at least six major seizures of ivory, amounting to 23 tonnes, compared to six seizures of less than 10 tonnes in 2010. The driving force behind this rise is the same culprit that is behind the rise in rhino poaching – increasing demand in Asia.

This rise reflects the increasing sophistication of the organised criminal gangs behind poaching. Groups such as the international wildlife trade network Traffic struggle to combat illegal poaching, and despite seizures of huge amounts of ivory, there are generally few arrests. Although ivory shipments always depart from Africa and arrive in Asia, the routes taken are constantly changing to reflect where the smugglers believe there will be less chance of detection. For example, in six of the 2011 shipments Malaysia was used as a transit country, with hundreds of tusks worth around £844,000 seized in December last year while en route to Cambodia. It also appears that smugglers have switched from using air transport to sea, as most seizures at the beginning of the year were at airports, but later shipments were mainly discovered in sea freight.

Many believe that the illegal ivory trade has been fuelled by the decision to allow southern African countries with booming elephant populations – South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia – to sell stockpiles of ivory. However, these countries deny this and feel that they should be rewarded for looking after their elephants.

Part 2 will look at rhino poaching – did they fare any better?

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