African elephants, ©Leonor Broide

Ivory Belongs On Elephants

It’s easy to feel disconnected from the plight of the African elephant. These beautiful creatures live halfway around the world, and most Americans have only ever seen them on TV or at the zoo. Sure, we have all heard that poaching is a problem, but did you know that the U.S. is the second largest market for poached and smuggled ivory in the world? Ivory from elephant tusks is valued for use in carvings, jewelry, and as a traditional (though fallacious) Chinese medicine used to purge toxins from the body and to improve one’s complexion – and a growing demand for it is decimating the species’ populations.

One African elephant dies every 15 minutes at the hands of ivory poachers. With rates of elephant poaching increasing, the wild population of African elephants outside of certain fiercely protected reserves could vanish completely within 10 years.

African elephants were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1978, and most populations are currently listed under Appendix I, the category of most concern, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). A ban on the importation of raw ivory into the U.S. took effect in 1989, except for in specific cases.

After protections were put in place, African elephant populations had begun to recover, but with a surge in demand for ivory, rates of illegal poaching have jumped again. From 2011-2014, African elephant poaching reached the highest levels since international monitors began keeping records in 2002. And the price of ivory in China has tripled, making elephant poaching an extremely lucrative business.

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Elephant, © Kelsey SchwendeWhat is the U.S. doing about the illegal ivory trade?

In 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) crushed six TONS of confiscated ivory. This past June, they crushed another ton in Times Square. Millions of dollars worth of ivory sacrificed to send a message: The U.S. will not allow this prolific trade to continue at the cost of elephant lives.

It’s easy for illegal ivory to blend in with the legal ivory for sale in U.S. markets. Because it is legal to sell African ivory that was imported before 1989, and because legal ivory is often sold without certification, illegal ivory is often sold under the guise of a legal sale. And since many wildlife products made from hippo teeth, walrus teeth, warthog tusks, etc. look very similar to elephant ivory, it can be difficult for law enforcement officials to determine what is legal and what isn’t without the use of expensive and destructive testing. Right now, products are considered legal until proven otherwise. Law enforcement officers must prove that the seller knew that their ivory was illegally obtained in order to obtain a conviction. Current U.S. law is outdated, confusing, and full of loopholes.

As a result, the easiest way to stop the illegal sale of ivory is to prevent it from coming into the country in the first place. FWS inspectors are stationed at ports across the country in an attempt to catch illegal ivory as it enters. The FWS also provides enforcement training around the world, and has assisted in international efforts to trace seized ivory shipments back to the country of origin so that smuggling routes may be shut down. But the volume of products coming into the U.S. far outstrips the resources that FWS has to address the issue.

Elephants Marching, © Helen M. Mundell

What can you do to help?

Be a Conscientious Consumer. Remember, the sale of legal ivory often serves as a cover for the sale of illegal ivory. Choose to boycott all ivory products to help reduce the demand. Tell your friends and family about your decisions and explain why they should consider making the same commitment.

Be an Advocate. On July 29, President Obama proposed new regulations designed to close existing loopholes and shut down the importation and sale of illegal ivory within the U.S. Write your representatives to let them know that you support this and other tough anti-trafficking measures. Tell them that you also support increases in funding for FWS law enforcement so that more wildlife inspectors can be trained and stationed full time at our ports of entry.

Support Defenders’ work. Make a donation or adopt an elephant today . Your support helps us to keep pressure on the White House to follow through with their plans, to mobilize against Congressional attempts to weaken ivory restrictions, to encourage grassroots efforts to implement state-specific ivory bans, and to ensure that current laws are sufficiently enforced.

Know Your Stuff. Did you know that elephants are considered a keystone species? When elephants dig for water in dry riverbeds, their neighbors benefit from the new water source. Elephant dung is an important vector for seed dispersal, and also serves as a fertilizer and a nursery for dung beetles. Even the trails made by elephants walking across their landscape result in important trails for other species and serve as fire breaks and water run offs. Share this information with your friends – the more someone knows about a species, the more likely they are to want to protect it.

Get Your Travel On. Have you ever wanted to see an elephant in the wild? If you choose to travel, be sure to choose an eco-tourism company that supports elephant conservation efforts. Shopping for souvenirs? Never buy ivory , but buy other items that are made in the communities you visit. Supporting locally-owned and operated businesses helps provide sustainable livelihoods for people on the ground in elephant environments, a great alternative to the temptation of making money through poaching.

Spread the Word. Share this post on social media. Tell your friends and family about the ivory trade and its impact on elephants in the wild.

Help Protect Elephants

The U.S. is the second largest market for ivory in the world. Let’s send a clear message that we’re serious about protecting elephants!

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Categories: Elephant, In the News, Wildlife

32 Responses to “Ivory Belongs On Elephants”

  1. Brenda Gazit

    i am South African and know these great creatures from close up. They are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, amazing parents. with incredible memories. It breaks my heart, that people kill these magnificent animals for their tusks, and I fully agree with the article, that all purchase of ivory anywhere in the world should be banned and punishable by law. Yet again human beings, and certainly not because we are stronger, simply because we can hold a shotgun in our hands, are destroying the Eco system if the planet, and destroying the possibility for future generations, to enjoy this beautiful creature.

    • Paul gabriel

      I just don’t know what to say anymore I can send the display on a disgusting me I just want to vomit of the human being to turn to be f****** monster .and I don’t see any future for this planet give me 10 years and most of the stuff

    • Grace Nowka

      I have loved Elephants all my life and collect Elephants. I have over 300 statues and pictures, I believe that the ivory is part of there body. What if
      Elephants collected human teeth as a trophy we would sure yell out loud!
      Love Elephants for who they are and May god Bless each and every one!

  2. earlene glisson


  3. Louise Mann

    Elephants are endangered and are too wonderful to lose. Their ivory belongs to them, not us. We must all stand up for the elephants and stop the ivory trade.

  4. Adair Wadkins

    I just would like you to know a new idea might help out. There is some type of pink substance they spray on the elephants’ tusks and it is there forever where no ivory will be reached.

    • Patricia Anderson

      Good idea, there are plenty of ideas that could work. I agree with them all. Thank You, Patti.

  5. Linda

    Poachers are one of the most despicable people around. All for the sake of money and power. The beautiful animals do not deserve this. Elephants are so intelligent. What is that saying, “an elephant never forgets”. They say they grieve just like humans do. Elephants are not for human’s greed. They should be allowed to live in dignity. That is the same for ALL animals.

  6. elizabeth whitlam

    no creatures need to be killed for they body parts, elephants especially, they are intelligent feeling creatures, mankind will pay for what we have done to our animals, torture and slaughter, thats why i refuse to eat animals anymore

  7. Jerry Cesar

    I blame the uncontrolled Poaching of our beautiful and gorgeous Elephants on the uncaring, and do-nothing attitude President Obama has in the face of all the decimation of our Elephants. Has anyone ever heard this incompetent man condemn the savage poachers of Africa or the idiotic Asian population who want trinkets in their homes and believe animal bones from endangered species are aphrodisiacs for them to frolic around in the sack? JACKASSES. But jackasses who are fueling the extinction of so many animals and marine creatures. THEY MUST BE STOPPED!

    WE NEED A REAL LEADER not a guy who only worked as a community activist. What we have in the Oval Office is a terrible joke an an embarrassment. Under Obama Elephants will disappear from Africa and Christians will disappear from the middle-east. HE DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN.


  8. Paul gabriel

    Welll whst can i say that it’s all about greed and money so how about you going to kill your f****** mother f****** father for money is the same f****** human being

  9. John Thompson

    Recently one of our knuckle-walking republican congressmen introduced bill to lessen Endangered Species Act protections on some North American “game” animals. In Canada there is a whole industry developing around poaching of grizzlies and other wild life, and anyone who’s not Native can’t be admitted to live in Alaska until he’s shot and mounted a bear. That’s an exaggeration obviously, but you can’t get any customers in a business unless there’s a bear in there, as any visitor to Anchorage would know. We have reached the point where the very LAST thing we need to be thinking about on this earth is human interest in these matters, especially when it’s something as frivolous as the the pointless slaughter in this “sport” of animals so that “hunters” can pretend there dicks are a few inches longer.

  10. Lone Fundby

    An elephant never forgets – Let’s hope we humans never forget to help them

  11. Josephine Briggs

    Elephants aren’t doing these people any harm, so why not just leave them alone. I guess money talks too loud to be ignored. Shame on them.

  12. Connie

    Elephants are God’s Beautiful Majestic Creatures. They are Intelligent, Family Oriented and have Feelings, YES Feelings especially GRIEF when one of their own are dead!!

  13. eliane thys

    STOP these crual killings !!!! I am ashamed as an human being. We KILL, we DISTROY, we do not have any RESPECT, we are SELFISH and have only one thing in mind … MONEY and more MONEY……………..disgusting !!!!!!!
    Elephants are such beautiul creatures. We can learn from them…. the way they remember things, the way they treat their baby’s and their education, their grief and their respect.
    I think there is only one solution…………… take away THE human being and it will save our precious world !!!!!!

  14. erlyne schubert

    let animals live we are God’s people and so are or beautiful animals all

    • Heidy

      Yess indead! Paint the ivory and also every thing what hunters for money will kill.

      Harmless for the animals and worthless for the killers

  15. Mari doming

    How dare anyone take their body parts just for profit! Leave them alone already!

  16. penny d

    Stop the murdering of these beautiful creatures. Their lives are worth more than their ivory.

  17. Lisa King

    Yes, most of us care about the plight of elephants, or we would not be on this website posting comments. However, it does no good to just lament and whine and complain about humans. Action is the only thing that will save the elephants. We must all take some little form of action – whether it is donating to Defenders of Wildlife or another non-profit that directly works to save elephants. Or we can sign petitions to save elephants on Care2 or or one of the other petition websites. And lastly, I would like to throw in my shameless plug for my own petition on Care2, I would like to see the U.S. stop foreign aid to African countries that do not enact strong legislation to protect their own wildlife. Let’s channel our emotions and sentiments into a powerful force for change when it comes to elephants and wildlife in general. Thanks!

  18. Cindy Shouey

    Find an easier tool to identify the real illegal ivory as opposed to the legal. Do
    unannounced raids of the shops selling it. Gather and test the ivory if not possible
    you should at least discover who has been lying and selling illegal ivory and target
    them further with more emphasis. Dig in deep to the heart of the problem. I also
    love the idea of finding and painting as many tusks as possible

  19. carol watson

    I love elephants with a passion.I think they are one of the most beautiful animals on this earth.The vast size that they grow to is a miracle in itself and to see them with their babies they are so gentle and caring.Also they are very intelligent unlike the evil bastards that want to kill them.Ive always loved animals since I was a small child and I could never understand why anyone would want to hurt an animal.Why? They have a right to live on this earth the same as us.
    The Poachers that do these attrocities have to have stronger penalties than the ones that they give out now. The way its going, there wont be any elephants,rhino’s, ‘lions, tigers,bears giraffes left on the planet.
    What will the murderers do then?

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