According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), some 70 elephants are poached each day- under cover. Investigative journalists tell the story of who's selling and who's buying in the global ivory trade -- and look at the ease with which smugglers can get ivory out of Africa.
  • The National Geographic Television film Battle for the Elephants explores the rapid destruction of African elephants, fueled by the growing trade in illegal ivory. This clip from the film follows the path of poached ivory from the port of Mombasa, Kenya, to the ivory carvers and luxury ivory shops in China.


    According to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2011 was the worst year on record for elephant poaching since the international ivory trade ban took effect in 1990. Most of the poaching takes place in Africa. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reports that 25,000 elephants were killed in Africa in 2012, though other observers say it could be many more. In Tanzania alone, poachers kill 30 elephants a day. Many reasons exist for the continued poaching in Africa, including lack of sufficient enforcement officers, corruption among the enforcement community, real danger from armed poachers, and a well-organized and well-funded criminal network behind the poachers.


    The vast majority of smuggled ivory—experts say as much as 70 percent—ends up in China, where a newly wealthy middle class fuels the demand for luxury ivory products. Although seizures of illegally obtained ivory take place, much of the smuggled ivory still gets through. Less than 1 percent of the shipping containers unloaded in the Port of Hong Kong are inspected for smuggled ivory. Ivory traders who do get caught are seldom arrested and, if they are, they face feeble penalties. The combination of improved international trade links and weak enforcement proves a powerful and extremely lucrative incentive for the criminal networks leading the poaching of African’s elephants.


    According to John Heminway, writer, producer, and director of Battle for the Elephants, “In Africa, wildlife conservationists…are risking their lives to protect these animals, but they are losing the fight. The market for smuggled ivory is too lucrative for poachers to resist, and our research suggests demand for ivory in China is only going to rise.”

    1. What are the main factors in the smuggling of poached ivory to China?

      Factors include, but are not limited to, the growing demand for ivory in China; the limited supply of legally obtained ivory; limited inspections of shipping containers; shortage of law enforcement agents; corruption within the systems involved in enforcement of the ban on ivory sales, the arrests and convictions of poachers and smugglers, and the incentives for the criminal networks involved in poaching and smuggling.

    2. Who are the various stakeholders—people affected by actions taken—in the issues of the illegal ivory trade, and how do they interact to make the problem worse or better?

      Stakeholders include the poachers, smugglers, law enforcement community, conservationists, producers and purchasers of ivory products in China. In one way or another these stakeholders participate in the supply chain of illegally obtained ivory—and the decline of the African elephant population. The principle of supply and demand brings the stakeholders into contact in some way throughout the process, and decisions made by each stakeholder impact the interests of the others. A change in any link in the chain—a decision or action that breaks or strengthens the chain—filters down to impact the end product.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    CITES Noun

    (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) international agreement whose aim is "to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival."

    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    incentive Noun

    offer or encouragement to complete a task.

    lucrative Adjective

    profitable or money-making.

    poach Verb

    to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

    stakeholder Noun

    person or organization that has an interest or investment in a place, situation or company.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.