UNODC Wildlife Crime Report 2024 – Case study 4: African elephant ivory

May 14, 2024 | Reports

Around 2006, Africa began to experience a renewed wave of elephant poaching, with East and Central Africa most severely affected.1 Seizure data analysed in the World Wildlife Crime Report 2016 showed that most of the extensive illegal flow of elephant ivory was headed for Asian markets.2 However, the World Wildlife Crime Report 2020 presented evidence that the global ivory market was in decline during the period 2014–2018. It argued that this decline could have been the result of multiple factors, including the possible bursting of a speculative investment bubble after indications that legal ivory markets in several key countries were to be closed or sharply restricted.3 At that time, trends in indicators of poaching, trafficking, and the retail market all suggested that the supply of ivory began exceeding demand from the mid-2010s and that this trend accelerated as national ivory controls came into effect.4 Qualitative research found that some poachers were holding onto ivory in hopes of a price rise, and market surveys showed a shift away from large sculptures and toward jewellery.5 These market changes were not subtle. For example, based on several independent data sources analysed by UNODC, the destination market wholesale prices in 2018 were one-third what they had been in 2014.6 In addition, seizure data showed a shift in the geographic focus of the market. After a series of pivotal arrests in Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, 7, 8 from about 2015, data indicated that Nigeria had become the primary country of ivory exports from Africa. Similarly, the same analysis showed that Viet Nam and Cambodia became increasingly prominent countries of destination for shipments of ivory during the period 2015–2019, perhaps due to increasing regulatory and enforcement pressure on other trade routes. Mixed loads of tusks and pangolin scales also appeared around the same time, occasionally including other wildlife parts.9 The latest information suggests that these trends are continuing. The number of detected poached elephants continues to decline overall, with 2021 being one of the lowest totals on record.10 11 After a brief spike associated with three massive seizures in the first half of 2019, ivory seizures have reduced too.12 13 The expensive works of art that were formerly prominent in the market are less common; most recent market surveys have detected primarily bangles, pendants, and other jewellery.14 By 2020, prices appeared to be dropping to new lows in both Africa and most of Asia.15 While reversals are always possible, it appears progress has been made in reducing the flow of illegal ivory.

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