A record quantity of ivory may have been in illegal trade in 2016 © TRAFFIC

A record quantity of ivory may have been in illegal trade in 2016 © TRAFFIC


Published 25 October 2017

New analyses reveal elephant poaching and global ivory trafficking continue at high unsustainable levels in 2016

Geneva, Switzerland, 25th October 2017—new analyses find the elephant poaching situation in Africa and levels of global ivory trafficking remain as critical threats to the survival of Africa’s iconic pachyderms.

report published ahead of next month’s crucial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), combines analyses of elephant mortality compiled through the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme with analysis of global ivory trafficking through the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) that TRAFFIC compiles on behalf of Parties to CITES. There are also updates from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on elephant populations. 

The MIKE analysis of elephant carcases across selected sites in Africa finds an incremental decline in elephant poaching for the fifth year in a row, but overall poaching still remains at levels which suggest continuing population decline. The worst affected areas are in Central and West Africa. 

The situation in East Africa, however, is a bright spot. At three sites in Tanzania and one in Kenya fewer than half the number of elephant carcasses were recorded in 2016 compared to 2015. Tanzania remains the sub-region’s elephant stronghold although numbers in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are also stable or rising, as are some populations in southern Africa. 

The ETIS analysis indicates that levels of illegal ivory transactions remained as high as in the previous six years, but also estimates that a record quantity of ivory may have been in illegal trade in 2016. This means that, even taking into account the impact of increased enforcement action, the overall quantity of ivory in illegal trade is likely now nearly three times greater than what was observed in 2007. 

These record levels are partially driven by the 22 large-scale ivory seizures (>500 kg) reported in 2016—a record-number. CITES recognizes that seizures of 500 kg or more are generally considered to be indicative of the involvement of organized crime. Overall, close to 40 tonnes of ivory was seized globally during the year. 

Worryingly, there is gathering evidence of ivory processing taking place within Africa to facilitate the smuggling of finished products to Asia, especially China and Hong Kong. Other findings reflect a wider shifting of ivory market dynamics, perhaps influenced by the prospect of forthcoming domestic ivory market bans in China and Hong Kong. 

Today’s findings show a volatile and unsettled ivory trade equation. A spate of positive policy changes and law enforcement actions have not yet suppressed record movements of illegal ivory, and trade patterns are shifting as traffickers struggle to find the path of least resistance to carry on. We’re not turning a corner yet on the elephant poaching crisis and it is more imperative than ever to keep up the pressure to stop the poachers and ivory traffickers by addressing emerging trade dynamics, especially ivory processing in Africa for Asian markets and the scourge of social media trading channels which currently remain beyond the reach of effective law enforcement everywhere.

Tom Milliken, who manages ETIS for TRAFFICNext month, the 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee takes place in Geneva, where among a range of issues, Parties will discuss what progress some 20 countries have made in implementing National Ivory Action Plans they were called upon by CITES to develop. 


CITES, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Find out more here.