The Course of Africas Ivory Trade

The current population of African elephant is about 600,000 down from about 1.2 million in 1979. Why? It is because of the exploitation of elephants for their ivory and skin. Hence, a sharp increase in elephant poaching, including illicit ivory trade, across Africa in the recent years.

The illegal harvesting of elephants is known as elephant poaching. It was already proven that poaching has caused the decimation of elephant population by almost half between the years of 1979 to 1989. This was the time when an elephant can yield $3, 600 for the middlemen while the average workers wage is no more than $1, 000 annually.

Elephant poaching happens because the state lacks enforcement and monitoring; the animals have no clear cut property rights also. In 1978, African elephant was placed on Appendix II of the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) because of the decline of its population and its economic value. The Appendix II regulates commercial trade and provides restriction on what is detrimental to the species.

The United States and many European nations imposed a moratorium on ivory imports in June 1989 to save the remaining elephant populations. The African elephant was added to Appendix I in October. The Appendix I ban trade in the products of African elephants and other species threatened by extinction. Such world ivory trading ban was implemented on January 18, 1990. African nations such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi and South Africa took reservations. They even formed the South African Center for Ivory Marketing (SACIM). This organization has not functioned yet because of lack of buyers.

However, the trade ban had varying effects depending on the state. All players involved in the poaching business and ivory trade such as producers, entrepots, and consumers have different incentives to comply with the ban. These incentives actually are in conflict with each other. Thats why; the ivory trade failed in some aspects. Since then, the illicit ivory trade has continued despite policy efforts.

The Space for Elephants (SEF) said illicit ivory trade has increased since 2004 and shoot up in 2009. Even the research of Elephant Trade Information System supported SEFs claims. SEF found that the volume of illicit ivory capture doubled between 2008 and 2009. Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo are recorded as countries having the large numbers of elephant poaching, which were run by well-organized crime syndicates supplying the elephant demand especially in Asia.

The Kenyan government reported around 232 victims of poachers in 2009up from 145 in 2008. Meanwhile in Congo, the Congolese military struggles to cope with poaching activity. In this country, rebels are believed to be involved in poaching and selling ivory.

These numbers showed the severity of poaching in Africa today than in 1990's. Experts estimated an 8 to 10% of Africa's elephants being killed every year to supply the growing demand for ivory. This level of poaching is incomparable in the 1980's before the world ivory trading ban implementation.

What is apparent in the history of elephant poaching and illicit ivory trade in Africa is that states in conflict and corruption are in no position to enforce laws controlling the illicit trade in ivory. For example, the abovementioned failure of the world ivory trading ban in 1990. The cultural and economic factors, particularly in Asia, also contribute to the rampant illicit ivory trade because of its ever present and continuing demand for ivory products.

Today, many studies projected that with that rate of elephant poaching there is a possibility of extinction by 2010. The elephant poaching and illicit ivory trades have been the main concerns for the 15th CITES Conference of Parties.

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