Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 10, pp 2767–2775 | Cite as

Conserving elephants depend on a total ban of ivory trade globally

  • Achyut AryalEmail author
  • Craig G. Morley
  • Ian G. McLean
Letter to the Editor
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Biodiversity exploitation and use


Despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) 1989 ban on trading ivory internationally, poaching for ivory has intensified in both Africa and Asia. Populations of African elephant (Loxodonta spp.) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) have declined drastically. In response to the rapid decline, the USA and some other CITES countries have banned commercial ivory trading in ivory. The country with the highest ivory consumption, the People’s Republic of China, recently shut down its legal ivory trade at the end of 2017. Nepal has turned the tide of elephant poaching, with no loss of elephants in the last 4 years. This remarkable success has been achieved by imposing a total ban on trade in ivory, supported by strict national legislation that includes significant fines and incarceration for poachers, traders and officials. Elsewhere, elephant poaching continues to increase despite the numerous disincentives already in place. Thus, we propose a global ban on trade in ivory as the only realistic solution to the current unsustainable rate of loss of elephants. The ban should be extended to trade in all products from endangered wildlife.


African elephant Asian elephant Poaching Conservation Ivory Illegal trade 



We would like to dedicate this paper to Wayne Lotter and all the other men and women who have given their lives to serve and protect elephants and other wildlife around the world. We would like to thank to KNCF, Japan for their financial support to work in elephant in Nepal.


  1. Acharya KP, Paudel PK, Neupane PR, Köhl M (2016) Human-wildlife conflicts in Nepal: patterns of human fatalities and injuries caused by large mammals. PLoS ONE 11(9):e0161717CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Actman J (2016) Woolly mammoth ivory is legal, and that’s a problem for elephants.
  3. Ahluwalia H (2015) Human-elephant conflict killed 391 people in 2014–15.
  4. Aryal A, Acharya KP, Shrestha UB, Dhakal M, Raubenhiemer D, Wright W (2017) Global lessons from successful rhinoceros conservation in Nepal. Conserv. Biol. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bennett EL (2015) Legal ivory trade in a corrupt world and its impact on African elephant populations. Conserv Biol 29(1):54–60CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Biggs D (2016) Elephant poaching: track the impact of Kenya’s ivory burn. Nature 534(7606):179CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Biggs D, Cooney R, Roe D, Dublin HT, Allan JR, Challender DWS, Skinner D (2017) Developing a theory of change for a community-based response to illegal wildlife trade. Conserv Biol 31(1):5–12CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bond J (2015) Making sense of human–elephant conflict in Laikipia County, Kenya. Soc Nat Res 28(3):312–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Breuer T, Maisels F, Fishlock V (2016) The consequences of poaching and anthropogenic change for forest elephants. Conserv Biol 30(5):1019–1026CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Buddhachat K, Brown JL, Thitaram C, Klinhom S, Nganvongpanit K (2017) Distinguishing real from fake ivory products by elemental analyses: a Bayesian hybrid classification method. Forensic Sci Int 272:142–149CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Cerling TE, Barnette JE, Chesson LA, Douglas-Hamilton I, Gobush KS, Uno KT, Wasser SK, Xu X (2016) Radiocarbon dating of seized ivory confirms rapid decline in African elephant populations and provides insight into illegal trade. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113(47):13330–13335CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Challender DSW, MacMillan DC (2014) Poaching is more than an enforcement problem. Conserv Lett 7(5):484–494. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chase MJ, Schlossberg S, Griffin CR, Bouché PJC, Djene SW, Elkan PW, Ferreira S, Grossman F, Kohi EM, Landen K, Omondi P, Peltier A, Jeanetta Selier SA, Sutcliffe R (2016) Continent-wide survey reveals massive decline in African savannah elephants. PeerJ. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Chen F (2015) Poachers and snobs: demand for rarity and the effects of antipoaching policies. Conserv Lett 9(1):65–69. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Choudhury A, Lahiri Choudhury DK, Desai A, Duckworth JW, Easa PS, Johnsingh AJT, Fernando P, Hedges S, Gunawardena M, Kurt F, Karanth U, Lister A, Menon V, Riddle H, Rübel A, Wikramanayake E, IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group (2008). Elephas maximus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008: e.T7140A12828813Google Scholar
  16. Collins A, Cox C, Pamment N (2017) Culture, conservation and crime: regulating ivory markets for antiques and crafts. Ecol Econ 135:186–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Connor N (2017) Booming trade in mammoth ivory fuels fears over elephants.
  18. Cooney R, Roe D, Dublin H, Phelps J, Wilkie D, Keane A, Travers H, Skinner D, Challender DWS, Allan JR, Biggs D (2016) From poachers to protectors: engaging local communities in solutions to illegal wildlife trade. Conserv Lett. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cressey D (2013) Nations fight back on ivory. Nature 503(7477):452CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Cruise A (2017) Good news for elephants: China’s legal ivory trade is ‘dying’ as prices fall.
  21. Dasgupta S (2017) Nepal burns more than 4000 confiscated wildlife parts.
  22. De Flamingh A (2013) Genetic structure of the savannah elephant population (Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach 1797)) in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, Doctoral Dissertation, University of PretoriaGoogle Scholar
  23. Duffy R (2014) Waging a war to save biodiversity: The rise of militarized conservation. Int Aff 90(4):819–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Duffy R (2016) War by conservation. Geoforum 69:238–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gao Y, Clark SG (2014) Elephant ivory trade in China: trends and drivers. Biol Conserv 180:23–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. García-Díaz P, Ross JV, Woolnough AP, Cassey P (2016) the illegal wildlife trade is a likely source of alien species. Conserv Lett. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gettleman J (2016) Closing China’s ivory market: will it save elephants?
  28. Global Forest Watch (2017) Global land cover interactive map.
  29. Goldenberg S (2016) US adopts near total ban on commercial ivory trade.
  30. Grundy T (2017) Chinese buyers fuelling ivory surge in Laos, conservation group says.
  31. Harrison JR, Roberts DL, Hernandez-Castro J (2016) Assessing the extent and nature of wildlife trade on the dark web. Conserv Biol 30(4):900–904CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Harvey R (2016) Risks and fallacies associated with promoting a legalized trade in ivory. Politikon 43(2):215–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hoare R (2015) Lessons from 20 years of human–elephant conflict mitigation in Africa. Hum Dimens Wildl 20(4):289–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hsiang S, Sekar N (2016) Does legalization reduce black market activity? Evidence from global ivory experiment and elephant poaching data. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 22314.
  35. Huang S, Weng Q (2014) China’s ivory market: the elephant in the room. Science 343(6171):611CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Ihwagi FW, Wang T, Wittemyer G, Skidmore AK, Toxopeus AG, Ngene S, King J, Worden J, Omondi P, Douglas-Hamilton I (2015) Using poaching levels and elephant distribution to assess the conservation efficacy of private, communal and government land in northern Kenya. PLoS ONE. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  37. iWorry (2017) One elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
  38. Jackson T (2013) Ivory apocalypse. Africa Geographic, April 2013Google Scholar
  39. Kideghesho JR (2016) The Elephant poaching crisis in tanzania: a need to reverse the trend and the way forward. Trop Conserv Sci 9(1):369–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kikuchi D (2016) Japan gets reprieve in international effort to clamp down on ivory trade.
  41. Kline K (2017) 520 elephants have new, safer homes thanks to a record relocation effort.
  42. Lee E-J, Lee Y-H, Moon S-H, Kim N-Y, Kim S-H, Yang M-S, Choi D-H, Han M-S (2013) The identification of elephant ivory evidence of illegal trade with mitochondrial cytochrome b gene and hypervariable D-loop region. J Forensic Leg Med 20(3):174–178CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Lopes AA (2015) Organized crimes against nature: Elephants in Southern Africa. Nat Res Model 28(1):86–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lotter W, Clarke K (2014) Community involvement and joint operations aid effective anti-poaching in Tanzania. Parks 20(1):19–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lusseau D, Lee PC (2016) Can we sustainably harvest ivory? Curr Biol 26(21):2951–2956CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Macmillan D (2015) Why banning the mammoth ivory trade would be a huge mistake. The conservation.
  47. Maisels F, Strindberg S, Blake S, Wittemyer G, Hart J et al (2013) Devastating decline of forest elephants in Central Africa. PLoS ONE 8(3):e59469. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  48. Martin E (2006) Are we winning the case for ivory substitutes in China? Pachyderm 40:89–101Google Scholar
  49. Martin E, Martin C, Vigne L (2013) The decline in carving African and Asian elephant tusks in Nepal and the decrease in ivory items for retail sale in Kathmandu. Pachyderm 54:52–58Google Scholar
  50. Mathiesen K (2016) Elephants on the path to extinction—the facts.
  51. Moodley Y, Russo IRM, Dalton DL, Kotzé A, Muya S, Haubensak P, Dicks K (2017) Extinctions, genetic erosion and conservation options for the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). Sci Rep 7:41417CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Naidoo R, Fisher B, Manica A, Balmford A (2016) Estimating economic losses to tourism in Africa from the illegal killing of elephants. Nat Commun. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  53. Pant G, Dhakal M, Pradhan NMB, Leverington F, Hockings M (2016) Nature and extent of human–elephant Elephas maximus conflict in central Nepal. Oryx 50(4):724–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Peh KSH (2013) Seize diplomats smuggling ivory. Nature 500(7462):276CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Poulsen JR, Koerner SE, Moore S, Medjibe VP, Blake S, Clark CJ, Akou ME, Fay M, Meier A, Okouyi J, Rosin C, White LJT (2017) Poaching empties critical Central African wilderness of forest elephants. Curr Biol 27(4):R134–R135CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Pradhan NBM, Christy Williams A, Dhakal M (2011) Current status of Asian Elephants in Nepal. Gajah 35:87–92Google Scholar
  57. Rashidi P, Wang T, Skidmore A, Mehdipoor H, Darvishzadeh R, Ngene S, Vrieling A, Toxopeus AG (2016) Elephant poaching risk assessed using spatial and non-spatial Bayesian models. Ecol Model 338:60–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Reuter P, O’Regan D (2017) Smuggling wildlife in the Americas: scale, methods, and links to other organised crimes. Global Crime 18(2):77–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Robson AS, Trimble MJ, Purdon A, Young-Overton KD, Pimm SL, Van Aarde RJ (2017) Savanna elephant numbers are only a quarter of their expected values. PLoS ONE. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  60. Sas-Rolfes M, Moyle B, Stiles D (2014) The complex policy issue of elephant ivory stockpile management. Pachyderm 55:62–77Google Scholar
  61. Selier S-AJ, Slotow R, Di Minin E (2016) The influence of socioeconomic factors on the densities of high-value cross-border species, the African elephant. PeerJ. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  62. Shurkin J (2016) Ivory From long-dead mammoths might slow elephant poaching.
  63. Sims ME, Baker BW, Hoesch RM (2011) Tusk or bone? An example of Ivory substitute in the wildlife trade. Ethnobiol Lett. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. TRAFFIC (2016) China to ban domestic ivory trade by end of 2017 in huge boost for Africa’s elephants.
  65. Underwood FM, Burn RW, Milliken T (2013) Dissecting the illegal ivory trade: an analysis of ivory seizures data. PLoS ONE. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  66. Wasser SK, Brown L, Mailand C, Mondol S, Clark W, Laurie C, Weir BS (2015) Genetic assignment of large seizures of elephant ivory reveals Africa’s major poaching hotspots. Science 349(6243):84–87CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  67. White N (2014) The “White gold of Jihad”: violence, legitimisation and contestation in anti-poaching strategies. J Political Ecol 21(1):452–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wittemyer G, Northrup JM, Blanc J, Douglas-Hamilton I, Ormundi P, Burnham KP (2014) Illegal killing for ivory drives global decline in African elephants. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111:13117–13121CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Yu Y, Wetzler A, Yang X, Tang R, Zhang L (2016) Significant and timely ivory trade restrictions in both china and the United States are critical to save elephants. Conserv Lett. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Yumnam B, Jhala YV, Qureshi Q, Maldonado JE, Gopal R, Saini S, Fleischer RC (2014) Prioritizing tiger conservation through landscape genetics and habitat linkages. PLoS ONE 9(11):e111207CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  71. Zhang L (2015) China must act decisively to eradicate the ivory trade. Nature 527(7577):135CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Zhou Z-M (2014) China: synthetic ivory fails to stop illegal trade. Nature. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Achyut Aryal
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Craig G. Morley
    • 1
  • Ian G. McLean
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Forest and Resource ManagementToi Ohomai Institute of TechnologyRotoruaNew Zealand
  2. 2.Faculty of Science, Charles Perkins Centre, School of Life and Environmental SciencesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Nature First NepalKathmanduNepal

Personalised recommendations