One of the key threats to the majestic African elephant is poaching. Fuelled by the ivory trade, around 15,000 animals are killed each year for their tusks – that’s an average of 40 a day. In fact, we estimate that we’ve lost over 80% of the planet’s African elephants in the past century. 

Starting in the early 2010s, elephant poaching in Africa soared. This was largely due to an increasing demand for ivory, particularly in China and the Far East, where it is used for ornaments and seen as a luxury status symbol. Today, international criminal networks are still smuggling huge quantities of ivory, and evidence shows that legal ivory markets can provide a cover to launder illegal ivory.


African elephants (Loxodonta africana) at a waterhole – remote camera. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.


The international commercial trade in ivory was banned in 1989, although many countries continued to sell ivory legally, within their own borders and exemptions for some types of ivory like antiques made exporting them legal, including here in the UK. WWF rallied hard to have new laws passed that would close domestic markets in hotspots linked to illegal trade. We celebrated a great success at the end of 2016 when China, the world’s biggest ivory market, announced that all ivory sales within the country would be banned.  

In 2017, with the help of WWF supporters, we urged the UK government to follow suit. We were thrilled when later that year, plans for a UK ivory trade ban were announced. The government is currently consulting on the implementation of the ivory act. WWF, in collaboration with other NGOs in the UK, is pressing the government to ensure this happens swiftly and effectively. We’re working hard to shut down other major ivory markets linked to illegal trade, alongside working to change consumer behaviour to reduce the demand for ivory that drives poaching of elephants.  


These bans sound like good progress, but do they really make a difference to elephants? We’ve been monitoring ivory demand in China since the ban and launched a report in 2020 with results of the latest survey. We found that demand for ivory is continuing to decrease since the ban. Consumer’s intentions to purchase ivory are now less than half of pre-ban levels. This is a fantastic step forward, but the report also highlighted that there is more work to be done to reduce demand amongst overseas travellers. We hope that other countries will be encouraged to follow China’s example, and with your support, we’re continuing to fight for elephants and end the slaughter of these magnificent creatures. 

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