The Illegal Ivory Trade and Covid-19 Lockdown

The Illegal Ivory Trade and Covid-19 Lockdown

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In 2016, our founder, Shannon Wild, was invited to document the historic Ivory Burn in Nairobi National Park in Kenya. The country’s President dropped the first match into one of 12 towers of stockpiled elephant ivory, along with rhino tusks and other illegal wildlife products.

In total, US$ 172 million dollars’ worth of ivory went up in smoke that night, sending a message to the world that ivory as a commodity carries no value in Africa. 

This controversial, powerful act was overwhelming. The ivory present represented 40,000 individual elephants, all of whom had senselessly died at the hands of poachers, feeding an insatiable demand for ivory in south-east Asian markets. 

But… records show that elephant poaching is at its lowest since 2003, which is every reason to celebrate. Poaching rates of the Endangered savanna elephant and the Critically Endangered forest elephant are mercifully down.

However, it doesn’t seem to have deterred the demand. 2019 Saw the largest ivory seizures in China and Vietnam since 2013. 

This leads to speculation that ivory stockpiles have once again entered the market, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GIATOC).

Since the Ivory Burn in 2016, and since two seizures in 2019 amounting to over 16 tonnes of smuggled ivory, the world faced the unprecedented onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Covid put a stop to tourism – the lifeblood of most African nations. Devastatingly, this meant job losses for families across the continent, and left conservation organisations dangerously underfunded. It takes continuous financial support through tourism to ensure field rangers are trained and equipped, fences are secured, aerial patrol teams are flying, and under-resourced communities are financially supported. So, the loss of tourism income meant that Africa’s wildlife was more vulnerable than before. 

However, there was a blessing disguised in it all… the travel bans and heightened security at borders meant that 2020 saw a drop in the reported illegal trade of ivory. Poachers deterred and law enforcement pressurising smugglers more than ever, it appears that elephants and their ivory remain safer than they were during prior decades of persecution.

“High levels of ivory seizures and consumer market surveys in recent years indicate that there is still considerable demand for ivory in eastern Asia … Once the virus has been contained by large-scale vaccinations (projected to be early 2022 in the US and the UK, later in 2022 for the EU and 2023 for the rest of the world, 72) it is likely that poaching will resume to supply pent-up demand,” wrote Daniel Stiles for the GIATOC. 

Our plan at Wild in Africa is to keep working with the amazing charities we are connected to and continue creating awareness and generating support for the anti-poaching workers who are making a difference to elephant lives out there.

Let’s keep elephant poaching on a downward trajectory beyond the scope of Covid.


Written by Chloe Cooper

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