Thwarting the white gold rush

There are many issues with modern day society, including our compulsive need for stuff – anything from the latest clothes, cars, gadgets, holidays, you name it people want it. So why does our desire to own things rule out our moral reasoning? Why do innocent creatures have to suffer?

The drastic impacts of our desire to own things has been seen through the remarkable decline of African elephants. Caused by excessive hunting of elephants for their ivory tusks1 for many things, including delicate ornaments and piano keys. The population of African elephants more than halved between 1979 and 1989, leading to the interventions of a CITES ban in 19895&6. Designed to interrupt the ivory trade, it was successful in closing ivory markets in Europe and America2. However, in many African countries poaching levels remained constant and in some cases even increased5.


Fig 1. World Wildlife Foundation 2015

Today there are only 470,000 African elephants in the wild and they are classed as vulnerable on the WWF register7. In an attempt to reduce poaching rates and stabilise elephant populations, a change in public perception is necessary to decrease ivory demands. The highest demand is from Asia, with thousands of ivory products seized by border control every year2&7. Minimising human-elephant conflict is suggested to increase protection of elephant populations by introducing locally managed sanctuaries, benefitting both the elephants and local populations through increased tourism revenue and decreasing crop damage7. Introduction of enforcement against poaching and selling ivory is critical, as many national parks in Africa don’t have efficient or effective barrier controls4.

ivory burn

Fig 2. Symbolic burning of stockpiled ivory (3)

Although there is the CITES ban, this has been wavered for the sale of stock piled ivory from African countries (mainly Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa) to the Japanese market2. Governments need to re-enforce strict policies against trading ivory. There is some movement with reports of a new ivory ban agreed between China and the USA to combat the large ivory markets, hopefully putting an end to global ivory trade. Banning of stock-piling ivory may influence demand, as ivory dealers are aware stock-piled ivory exists they wait until restrictions are wavered and these are tradable. This has happened on recurring occasions in history2 and can be seen to keep the interest within the ivory trade. The first country to destroy stock piled ivory was Kenya in 1989, this trend has increased globally. To date around 130 tonnes of stock-piled ivory has been destroyed since the CITES ban on ivory trade in 1989, with around 29 tonnes destroyed this year alone8.

It is clear that there is still a demand for ivory and excessive poaching rates are destroying the few elephant populations remaining. These shocking statistics show that we need to do all we can to preserve this majestic species, so that future generations get the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate them.

In the words of the Duke of Cambridge:

“Only we, as consumer, can put the wildlife traffickers out of business, by ending our demand for their products … by working together we can stand up to the great challenges our planet faces”.

By Ashleigh Nithsdale


  1. Beachey R.W., 1967. The Ear African Trade in the Nineteenth Century. Journal of African History. Vol 2 Pages 269 – 290.
  2. Born Free Foundation, 2015. The Ivory Trade. Available at: [Accessed on 10/11/2015].
  3. Rhodes A., 2015. Congo and the UAE have destroyed their ivory stockpiles. Heres why that’s so important. Available at: [Accessed on 11/10/2015].
  4. Leader-Williams N. and Milner-Gulland E.J., 2002. Policies for the Enforcement of Wildlife Laws: The Balance between Detection and Penalties in Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Conservation Biology. Vol 7 Pages 611 – 617.
  5. Lemieux A.M. and Clarke R.V., 2009. The International Ban on Ivory Sales and its Effects on Elephant Poaching in Africa. British Journal on Criminology
  6. Stiles D. The Ivory Trade and Elephant Conservation. Environmental Conservation. Vol 31 Pages 309 – 321.
  7. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 2015. African Elephant Overview. Available at: [Accessed on 10/11/2015].
  8. Welch M., 2015. Crash and Burn: Destroying Illegal Ivory. World Wildlife Fund. Available at: [Accessed on: 11/11/2015].

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