The Butterfly Sanctuary

Bringing wildlife conservation awareness one step closer to home

The Ivory Trade: An Elephant’s Death Sentence

Imagine having your teeth torn from your mouth so someone can make it into a pretty little necklace. Aesthetically, you can still get some porcelain ones to replace them, I guess.

But what happens when, in order to get those teeth out, someone would have to knock you senseless to keep you still, slice your mouth open using crude and rusty knives and leave you after the “operation” exposed to the hot African sun with the sub-Saharan desert as your “recovery room”? All without anesthesia.

What I’m describing isn’t too far off from what these beautiful and majestic creatures have been experiencing in the hands of illegal ivory poachers.  Needless to say, these elephants don’t usually survive.

Picture of a poached African elephant in the Zakouma National Park in Chad Africa. Photo: Darren Potgieter/CITES/UNEP

Picture of a poached African elephant in the Zakouma National Park in Chad Africa. Photo: Darren Potgieter/CITES/UNEP


While the world experienced a big win in 1989 with a ban on the international ivory trade, experts are claiming that the numbers of poached elephants are once again on the rise.  Many believe this is due to the growing prosperity of China, the ivory trade’s biggest market, driving prices up from $175 a kilo in 2008 to $2,000 a kilo in 2012.

An estimated 17,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011 alone.  In 2012, this number is estimated at 25,000.  The elephant population has dropped from 1.2 million in the 1970’s to just a little over 500,000 today, a decline of almost 60% in the last 4 decades.

Confiscated illegal ivory.  Literally an elephant graveyard.

Confiscated illegal ivory. Literally an elephant graveyard. Photo: Courtesy of The Verge

While most Western countries have stemmed the growth of illegal ivory trade (thanks to some very strong conservation campaigns), a majority of the problem is much closer to home.  These big players are known as the Gang of Eight.

The Gang of Eight is composed of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda where these elephants are poached; Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines where ivory is smuggled and laundered (i.e. origins are hidden); and Thailand and China which are the biggest buyers of illegal ivory.


Apart from the obvious decline in wild elephant population, scientists and researchers in Africa have noticed a growing change in African elephant behavior to humans.  Watch this video to learn more.

We need to remember that elephants are one of the smartest animals on earth.  They are capable of strong social bonds and display emotions akin to humans.  How would you react if you saw your brother or sister slaughtered in front of you so someone can pull out their teeth?


Stop buying items made of ivory such as jewelry, art pieces, and even billiard balls!  If you really need to purchase anything made of ivory, then buy legally traded ones.

A sad display of ivory elephants using elephant ivory.

A sad display of ivory elephants using elephant ivory. Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Legally traded ivory is licensed and regulated by government bodies and requires that the animal from which the ivory was obtained should be in the approved list of CITES (Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species).  Usually this means that the ivory should be at least 100 years old at the time of import.  A legal seller will have a license and should be able to show it to you if you ask for it.  Report any trader / seller who cannot show you any legal documents.

Last but not least, lobby for the protection of these beautiful and majestic animals.  Share your awareness with friends and families, especially those who live in the Gang of Eight.  Elephants deserve so much more than your applause and cheers in zoos and the circus!


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