Trafficking Poached Ivory

Trafficking Poached Ivory

Discover how smugglers move poached ivory from Africa to the Chinese market.


5 - 12

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.”

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Elaine Larson, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
J.J. Kelley
Elaine Larson, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

December 15, 2023

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