A new report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) indicates that the illegal ivory trade has risen to its highest point in two decades following a sharp upturn in seizure of large shipments of the elephant tusks in recent years. The same report says that 2011 was the worst year on record with a “major surge” in the illegal trafficking of ivory.
The full report will be presented at a CITES conference held in Bangkok in March, but the preliminary numbers are sobering to say the least. Through data collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) maintained by TRAFFIC, it was determined that 2009-2011 were three of the four worst years for ivory seizures on record. Even more troublesome was that news that in 2011 there were 17 large-scale ivory seizures conducted worldwide, easily surpassing the eight that took place in 2009, the year with the next highest total. Those 2011 seizures are estimated to represent roughly 26.4 tons of ivory that was mostly harvested from elephants slaughtered in Africa.
The CITES report says that the illegal ivory trade was relatively stable and small from 1998 to 2008. After that, each successive year has seen a sharp rise in activity. It is believed that those increases coincide with organized crime units becoming more involved with the trade, following a rise in demand across Asia. Thailand and China are named as the two major consumers of ivory in the study.
Because demand has been on the rise in certain parts of the world, a number of African countries have seen their elephant populations decimated by poachers. It is estimated that tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year just to harvest their tusks for sale on the black market. Most of the ivory is then smuggled out to Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam before being sent on to its eventual end location.
The statistics for the ivory trade in 2012 have not been compiled as of yet, but considering some of the events that took place last year, it seems unlikely that this upward trend was reversed.
[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]