WCS China

Facing the illegal ivory trade and the African elephant crisis


Simon Hedges,野生生物保护基金会(Wildlife Conservation Society)
Article originally appeared on 中华环境 (Environment China) Magazine: goo.gl/8XuiTx


We are in the midst of an elephant crisis: the illegal killing of elephants, largely for their ivory, is currently an extremely serious threat to elephant populations across Africa and is causing dramatic declines in many populations, the collapse of elephant ranges, and even local extinctions. Data from the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program show a continuing increase in levels of illegal killing of African elephants since 2006, with 2011 displaying the highest levels since MIKE records began. Similarly, data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), managed by TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network), show a steadily increasing trend in levels of illegal ivory trade from 2004 onwards, with a major upsurge in 2009, and 2011 emerging as the worst year ever for large ivory seizures. Tens of thousands of elephants continue to be killed illegally every year and elephant populations remain in decline across most of Africa. The main reasons for the crisis are inadequate protection for elephants, insufficient efforts to halt ivory trafficking, and skyrocketing demand for ivory. Rising consumer wealth in Asia and especially China fuels the demand; organized crime syndicates control the trafficking. To end this crisis we need to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop – or at least very significantly reduce – the demand for ivory.  Doing so will require major improvements in law enforcement at key elephant sites and throughout the illegal trade chain: from source sites to consumer markets as well as awareness-raising campaigns that are designed to persuade consumers to change their behavior and stop buying ivory.  

我们正处在大象危机当中:为了获取象牙而对大象非法猎杀,是当今非洲象种群正在经受的极其严重的威胁,并且已经造成许多种群的急剧下降、大象栖息地破坏,甚至导致大象在某些区域的灭绝。来自濒危野生动植物种国际贸易公约(简称CITES)的“监测非法大象猎杀”(简称MIKE)项目数据显示,自2006年起,对非洲象的非法盗猎呈持续上升的水平,而且在2011年达到自MIKE记录以来的最高点。相似地,野生物贸易研究委员会(简称TRAFFIC)的大象贸易信息系统(简称ETIS)数据显示,非法象牙贸易从2004年开始呈稳定增长趋势,期间在2009年呈现重大高涨,而2011年更成为大宗象牙查获案件最严重的一年。每年,成千上万的大象被非法猎杀,以致于非洲大部分地区的大象种群数量在持续下降。该危机产生的主要原因是大象保措施不足,阻止象牙流通的力度不够,加之亚洲尤其是中国消费者财富的增长刺激了对象牙的需求,有组织的犯罪集团如今操纵着大部分非法贸易,他们意识到这是冒相对小的风险而发大财的机会。 要结束这场危机,我们需要停止杀戮,打击非法走私,并停止或至少大量减少对象牙的需求。

African Elephants – a continental overview


Population size and distribution





African Elephants may have once inhabited most of the continent of Africa, and they are presumed to have been widespread everywhere south of the Sahara. They were exterminated from North Africa in the Middle Ages, largely as a result of the ivory trade and desertification although the capture of large numbers of elephants for warfare and circuses played a role. Today, the range of African Elephants is fragmented as a result of increasing agricultural development but they remain widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, occurring in 35–38 countries: the uncertainty is because the continued presence of elephants in Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan has not been confirmed.



According to the most recent (March 2013) update from the IUCN Elephant Database1, there are some 420,000–500,000 elephants in Africa. Other experts think the number could be closer to 400,000 or even 250,000. The total number of elephants in Africa is uncertain because of the scarcity of accurate and up-to-date surveys of elephant populations across Africa, which is itself a reflection of the tremendous challenges both technical and financial in conducting such surveys, especially in large remote areas. As a consequence, it is very difficult to make regional estimates of total numbers, let alone for the whole continent. Fortunately, the new pan-African aerial census, that is currently underway and in which WCS is participating, will provide an up-to-date picture of the status of Africa’s Savannah Elephants2.


非洲象分布和种群密集度地图,图片来源:UNEP, CITES, IUCN, TRAFFIC (2013) ‘Elephants in the Dust – The African Elephant Crisis. A Rapid Response Assessment’, United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal. www.grida.no.

Again, according to the IUCN Elephant Database, Southern Africa has by far the largest known number of elephants of the four sub-regions, with just over 52% of the continent’s elephants, while East Africa holds just over 28%, Central Africa 17%, and West Africa just 1.6%.Savanna Elephants are found predominantly in East and Southern Africa, while ForestElephants occur primarily in the Congo Basin of Central Africa.  In West Africa, elephants live in both forest and savanna areas, but their taxonomic status remains uncertain. The distribution of elephants varies considerably across Africa’s four regions, with small, isolated populations in West Africa and generally much larger, less fragmented populations in some parts at least of Central and Southern Africa. Southern Africa has the largest extent of elephant range of any region, and accounts for 39% of the species’ total range area; Central and Eastern Africa follow with 30% and 26% of the continental total respectively, while West Africa accounts for only 5%.

根据世界自然保护联盟(IUCN)大象数据库的数据,非洲南部拥有至今所知的数量最多的大象,它们来自于四个区域,占陆整个大陆大象数量的52%,而非洲东部仅有28%,非洲中部17%,非洲西部仅有1.6%。草原象主要分布于非洲东部和南部,森林象主要分布在非洲中部的刚果盆地。在西非,大象即可生存在森林中,也可生存在稀树大草原地区,但它们的分类学属性仍未确定。大象在非洲四个区域有显著的分布变化,在西非分布着数量较小的孤立种群,而至少在非洲中部和南部的部分区域分布着数量较大、较集中的种群 。非洲南部拥有全境最大的大象分布范围,是该物种全部分布区域的39%;非洲中部和东部的分布区域分别占全部的30%和26%,而西非仅占5% 。

The African Elephant crisis


2013年5月,盗猎者进入被认为保护最良好的中非共和国Dzanga Bai 猎杀了26头大象,其中多数是母象和小象 Andrea Turkalo/摄

Land use pressures, which result in the loss and degradation of the elephants’ habitat and the illegal killing of elephants, primarily for ivory and meat, are the most important threats to the long-term survival of elephant populations across Africa. Human–elephant conflict is also a serious challenge across much of Africa since it can lead to retaliatory killing and undermine support for conservation. Climate change and the increasing frequency of droughts are now recognized asmajor threats to elephant populations, too, especially in the Sudano-Sahelian region.

土地使用的压力导致大象栖息地丧失和退化,以获取象牙和象肉为目标的非法猎杀,均是威胁非洲象种群长期生存的最重要因素 。人象冲突也是非洲大部分地区所面临的严峻考验,它会导致报复性的杀戮,并对大象保护产生干扰性的破坏。气候变化和日趋频繁的干旱现在也被认为是对非洲象种群的主要威胁,特别是在苏丹-萨赫勒地区。

Illegal killing is the most acute threat to Africa’s elephants. Data from the CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) program suggest a continuing increase in levels of illegal killing of African elephants since 2006, with 2011 displaying the highest levels since MIKE records began3. Similarly, data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), managed by TRAFFIC – the wildlife trade monitoring network – show a steadily increasing trend in levels of illegal ivory trade from 2004 onwards, with a major upsurge in 2009, and 2011 emerging as the worst year ever for large ivory seizures4. Overall, in 2012, poachers killed some 35,000 African elephants for their ivory5. Tens of thousands of elephants continue to be killed illegally every year and elephant populations remain in decline across most of Africa. Central Africa’s elephants have been particularly badly affected: forest elephant population size declined by approximately 65% between 2002–20136. The main reasons for the crisis are inadequate protection for elephants, insufficient efforts to halt ivory trafficking, and skyrocketing demand for ivory, especially in Asia. Rising consumer wealth in Asia and in China in particular has fueled the demand for ivory and organized crime syndicates now control much of this illegal trade having recognized the opportunities to make large sums of money for relatively little risk.


Why should people care about elephants?




一头大象在同类的尸体旁,久久不愿离开, Andrea Turkalo/摄

First of all there are ethical reasons to protect elephants, highlighted by the fact that elephants are among the most intelligent animals on the planet, with complex social lives and long memories. Elephants seemingly recognize the remains of dead relatives and appear to grieve over the loss of family members. For these and many other related reasons, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure their survival.


Elephants are also of tremendous importance from an ecological point of view. They have been described both as “landscape engineers” for their role in maintaining clearings, waterholes, and trails, and in some cases denuding landscapes of trees, and as the “gardeners of the forests” for their critical role in distributing the seeds of numerous species of trees, some of which are dependent on passing through an elephant’s gut in order to germinate. This ecological role, of course,also has significant economic consequences. More directly elephants are major contributors to local and national economies through wildlife-based tourism. Nature tourism is one of Africa’s main tourism products, and as such a key contributor to the continent’s socio-economic development. Tourism accounts for 7% of all exports in Africa and 58% of its service exports and is one of the most important sectors for the economies of the continent. Such tourism is of course seriously affected by the on-going poaching crisis and so the future of much wildlife-based tourism in Africa depends on bringing the poaching crisis under control and – in particular – on bringing a halt to the rampant poaching of elephants in much of Africa.


In addition, poaching and illegal trafficking of ivory (as well as rhinoceros horn and other wildlife parts and products) affects not only wildlife but also entire ecosystems and the people that live in them, effectively depriving local communities of their livelihood. Organized criminal activities, which increasingly include the illegal wildlife trade, and the corruption that underlies them, undermine local livelihoods and reduce opportunities for sustainable use. As the World Bank’s Valerie Hickey puts it, “wildlife crime is leading to the proliferation of guns in exactly those areas that need less conflict, not more; it is providing money for corruption, in exactly those countries in which corruption has already stalled all pro-poor decision-making and doing business legitimately is already hard enough; and it is oiling the engine of crime and polluting efforts at good governance, democracy and transparency in exactly those communities that need more voice, not more silence. It is anti-worker, anti-women and anti-poor”7.

另外,以象牙为目标的盗猎和非法贸易(对犀牛角和其他野生动物制品也是一样)不仅影响了野生动物也影响了整个生态系统,还影响着在该系统里生存的人类 。有组织的犯罪活动,包括日趋增长的非法野生动物贸易、隐藏在非法贸易中的腐败,破坏了当地生计,削弱了当地社区对自然资源可持续利用的机会。正如世界银行的Valerie Hickey所说:“野生动物犯罪导致了某些地区的枪支泛滥,而这些地区正需要少些冲突,而不是更多;为腐败提供了资金,而这些国家的腐败已经使得倾向穷人的政策制度陷入僵局,合法经营也已经够难了;并且为犯罪的引擎加油,玷污了好的管理、民主和透明,而这些社区正需要更多的声音,而不是沉默。它是反工人、反妇女、反穷人的。”(7)

What needs to be done to end the crisis?


The need for multiple approaches


Given the severity and complexity of the elephant crisis no single approach will be adequate by itself.  To end the crisis we need to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop – or at least very significantly reduce – the demand for ivory.  Doing so will require major improvements in law enforcement at key elephant sites and throughout the illegal trade chain: at border crossings, seaports, airports, and in the major markets. Moreover, reducing the demand for ivory, particularly in China, is of paramount importance. Supply side measures are essential but insufficient; elephants will never be safe until demand for ivory falls to sustainable levels. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is working across Africa and Asia on all three fronts: working with government partners to combat poaching of key elephant populations, collaborating with governments, intergovernmental organizations including Interpol and CITES, and others to help reduce trafficking of ivory and other wildlife products, and working with many Chinese organizations to reduce the demand for ivory. In addition, WCS is working alongside many others in the United States to promote federal and state level moratoria on ivory sales.

针对大象危机的严重性和复杂性,没有一种单一的解决方案可以完全解决这一问题。要渡过这场危机,我们需要多管齐下:停止杀戮、严禁走私和暂缓国内贸易,减少象牙消费需求。而这样的解决方案需要在大象栖息地和非法交易链的重要区域,比如边境区域、海港、机场和主要市场,进行法律的完善和突破 。另外,减少象牙消费需求是至关重要的,这一点在中国尤为明显。对贸易链的供应环节的控制很重要,但还不够,因为在象牙需求降低至可持续的程度之前,大象仍然生活于危险当中。野生生物保护基金会(WCS)正从三方面致力于非洲和亚洲的大象保护工作:与政府合作一同打击对主要种群的非法盗猎;与政府和政府间组织进行合作,例如国际刑事警察组织和CITES等,以帮助减少象牙和其他野生动物制品的非法交易;与众多中国机构合作以减少象牙消费需求。另外,WCS在美国还致力于推动联邦和洲级别的象牙交易暂停。


Stopping the killing



在刚果,巡护员和缴获的象牙,Tomo Nishihara/摄

The top priority, in the short term, is to secure greater financial and technical support for improved, demonstrably effective, “boots on the ground”law enforcement at key elephant sites wherever possible across Africa.These law enforcement actions should include much more sophisticated use of intelligence networks to gather“intel” about poaching in parks: preventing poaching when possible; arresting poachers when not. The importance of site-based law enforcement is well-established: e.g. forest elephant densities are seven times higher where they are protected by rangers ‘on the ground’8; and the results of the MIKE analyses show that sites with better law enforcement capacity tend to experience lower levels of elephant poaching9.

在短期内最优先的策略是为非洲关键的大象栖息地提供更多的财政和技术支持,以促进执法的可行性和有效性 。这些执法行动包括更成熟地利用智能网络来收集保护区内非法盗猎情报,包括尽可能阻止非法盗猎,在盗猎之前就逮捕盗猎者。因为基于保护地的执法重要性是非常明显的,例如,有护林员实地保护的森林象的密度(比不被保护的大象种群)高出了七倍(8);据MIKE的分析结果显示,执法能力较好的保护地遭受大象盗猎的程度也更低(9)。


Stopping the trafficking and need for national moratoria on all ivory sale




香港海关缴获的象牙及其他野生动物非法制品,Alex Hofford/摄

In addition to law enforcement to protect key elephant populations, there is also a pressing need for better law enforcement at other key points in the illegal trade chain including but not limited to the following actions, which again need greater financial and technical support:


Much more sophisticated use of intelligence networks to gather intelligence about traffickers.
Much greater use of improved ivory detection methods including “sniffer” dogs; these detection methods needs to be deployed at major airports, container ports, and border crossings.

Profiling and targeting of containers and other methods used to smuggle ivory to facilitate better interception rates.


Much better collaboration between law enforcement agencies throughout the international ivory trade chain.A key example would be to promote controlled deliveries of large-scale ivory shipments so that the criminal webs behind these transactions can be better understood and unraveled.Such controlled deliveries should include real-time GPS tracking to establish the people and companies involved, routes used, and end destinations.


Support for the judiciary to, for example, improve prosecution rates and to help ensure deterrent penalties are handed-down.
Improved ivory stock management (to stop leakage into the illegal trade) through training and where appropriate the destruction of ivory stockpiles (after audits by independent agencies) as a means of reducing leakage of seized ivory back into the illegal trade.
Routine forensic analyses of all large-scale ivory seizures using DNA-based methods to trace the ivory back to the elephant populations from which it was obtained and thus inform law enforcement and elephant management actions.


In addition, and of critical importance, there is clearly a need for bans – national moratoria –on all domestic ivory sales.  It is counter-productive to have legal domestic markets for a commodity with no (or very limited episodic) legal supply because the legal trade provides a cover for large amounts of illegal ivory to enter the trade. Either there needs to be a legal trade to supply the domestic markets or the trade has to be banned completely. A legal international trade is impossible to envisage at the present time: demand for ivory is much too high relative to the possible sustainable supply and criminal syndicates much too entrenched in the trade. What is needed, then, is for countries around the world to declare national moratoria on all ivory sales. As China is the key ivory market, a Chinese moratorium on buying and selling ivory would remove the main driver of the poaching crisis and demonstrate China’s global leadership on environmental matters to the wider world.



Reducing the demand for ivory




Finally, but arguably most importantly, there is a pressing need for effective demand reduction efforts that will significantly reduce or better yet eliminate the desire to purchase ivory. Better collaboration between CITES and other biodiversity-related conventions, United Nations bodies, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector are needed to raise peoples’ awareness of the gravity of the elephant poaching crisis and of the link between buying ivory and the illegal killing of elephants in Africa (and indeed in Asia). Such work must include the funding, development, and implementation of targeted consumer education programs aimed at reducing the demand for ivory. Awareness-raising campaigns using but not limited to social media are a key element in demand reduction strategies but raising awareness is insufficient by itself; demand reduction campaigns need to be linked to and directly result in behavioral change among consumers. Awareness-raising campaigns also need to encourage civil society to press for government action. It is important to note that these approaches are known to have been successful for other wildlife products in the past. Demand for rhino horn, for example, in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan [HOW TO REFER TO TAIWAN?], and Yemen, once major consumers of rhino horn, has been significantly reduced through a combination of demand reduction campaigns, import bans, and moratoria on domestic sales.

最后,但是也是最重要的是,如果能够遏止需求,就能够减少或更好的消除购买象牙的欲望。CITES和其他有关生物多样性的管理有着良好的合作,联合国系统、政府间国际组织、非政府组织和私人部门应该让得人们意识到非法捕猎大象罪行的严重性,以及购买象牙与在非洲(或者是亚洲)非法捕杀大象之间的联系。这样的工作需要资金、发展、以及实施针对减少象牙消费需求的教育项目。提高社会意识的行动至关重要,可以基于(但不限于)社交媒体的传播,但仅仅提高社会意识是不够的;更需要上升到减少需求和消费者行为转变的行动,这也是终极目标。提高社会意识的行动也需要鼓励社会给政府施压,推动决策行为。这种解决方式的有效性在过去的野生动物保护中得到了印证:如在日本、韩国、中国台湾和也门等主要犀角消费国和地区中,通过减少消费需求的活动、严禁进口的和暂缓国内贸易的决策相结合, 成功地减少了犀角消费需求。





森林象,加蓬的Beach Loango,Emiko Nishihara/摄

Africa’s elephants desperately need our support. The continued loss of tens of thousands of African Elephants every year, the collapse of the species’ range, and local extinctions must not be seen as inevitable. We know that with the right interventions, whether to halt poaching, to combat trafficking of ivory and reduce the demand for ivory in the main consumer countries, and to enable local people and elephants to coexist, elephants can have a future. It is up to all of us to make it so.



Translated by SFY & STQ.


(3)http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/16/doc/E-CoP16-53-01.pdf and http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/16/doc/E-CoP16-53-01-Addendum.pdf.
(5)Wildlife Conservation Society (2013) ‘Elephants Under Siege’, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA
(6)See Maisels et al. (2013) at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0059469.
  (8) Wildlife Conservation Society (2013) ‘Elephants Under Siege’, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA.
  (9) http://www.cites.org/eng/cop/16/doc/E-CoP16-53-01.pdf.

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