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The Elephant Ivory Trade

It’s been a sad history for our elephants, as throughout history they have been slaughtered for their precious tusks.  Humans have always had a desire for ivory. From making “useful” items like piano keys to creating adornments such as jewellery and works of art, our elephants have paid the ultimate price.

Elephants Sad Demise

There are records going back to the 14th century of elephant tusks being exported from Asia and Africa. It is estimated that 26 million elephants once roamed throughout Africa. Unfortunately, due to hunting, elephants were completely wiped out in North Africa about a 1000 years ago.

Many of Southern Africa’s elephants were killed in the 19th century and by the end of the 20th, most of West Africa’s elephants were killed for their tusks. During a pre-20th century peak in the ivory trade, it is said that 800 to 1000 tonnes of ivory was exported to Europe alone.

There was a lull in the trade during the world wars and depressions but with prosperity in the 1970’s, there was a global upsurge in demand.  During the 1970’s,  Japan bought up more than 40% of the global trade, with Europe and North America buying up another 40% of the tusks.

The remaining ivory remained in Africa.

Many African countries improved their colonial game and legislation laws in the 1950’s and 60’s, introducing laws which made the hunting of elephants illegal unless you had an expensive permit, but sadly it did nothing to stop the illegal poaching of elephants.

During the 1980’s about 250 elephants were illegally poached in Africa every day so that by the end of the decade less than 600 000 elephants remained in Africa.  Sadly, by then, the African Elephant was on the brink of extinction.

Elephant Eating Grass

Hope for the African Elephant

While some African countries controlled their ivory trade and were initially against the complete ban on the ivory trade, in January 1990 the decision was made to ban the international trade in ivory.  Today it is widely noted that the complete ban on ivory worked.  Poaching of the African Elephants was greatly reduced not only because of the ban but also because of the publicity surrounding the poaching issue. Thanks to the efforts of CITES and the public it was widely accepted that the trade in ivory was harmful and also illegal.  Ivory markets around the world closed and the price of ivory plummeted.

The Trade in Ivory Today

The international trade in elephant ivory is still banned.  CITES recognised that in some southern African countries the elephant populations were well managed and approved two legal sales.  50 tons of ivory was sold to Japan in 1999 and 108 tons was sold to China in 2008, and this ivory was sourced from government-owned stockpiles from Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  These were specifically approved sales.

In certain countries, it is legal to buy and sell ivory provided it is certified as antique or that it is from legal stockpiles.

Elephants in the Kruger National Park

During the 1960’s there were about 6000 elephants in the Kruger National Park.  Every 10 years this number doubles.  In 1967 the elephant population was restricted to 7000 and therefore it became necessary to cull elephants to keep their numbers down.  After 1994, however, the culling stopped and since then their numbers have increased rapidly.  The Kruger National Park has relocated small numbers of elephants since 1994 but this has not reduced their numbers very much.  In 2004 the Kruger National Park had roughly 11 500 and by 2017 their numbers had increased to 13 000.

Sadly 67 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park in 2017.

Elephant kruger park

Ten Interesting Facts about Elephants

  • Elephants use either their left tusk or right tusk, just like humans they are either left or right “handed”.
  • Asian elephants have shorter tusks than African elephants.
  • Elephants are highly sensitive and caring animals.
  • Elephants are afraid of bees.
  • All baby elephants are born blind.
  • Elephant’s tusks grow throughout its life and about 18cm a year.
  • One tusk can weigh up to 10kg.
  • Elephants grieve when a member of their herd dies.
  • Elephants drink up to 190litres of water a day.
  • It is a myth that elephants get drunk from Marula fruits.

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