The Ivory Trade

Posted on: 08.24.2014 in interact

The African elephant — an intelligent and social animal — once thrived across its continent, particularly sub-saharan Africa, with a population between 3 and 5 million. For centuries, people have been using its ivory tusks to create sculptures, carvings and practical items such as tools and weapons. But with the rise of industrialization, followed by globalization, consumer demand for exotic ivory swelled, and halfway through the 20th century, the species’ population began a rapid decline. (A similar plight has been seen with the Asian elephant.)

As the traumatic effects of the ivory trade were acknowledged, governments began taking steps to reduce elephant poaching, including restrictions on buying and selling ivory. Unfortunately, as these practices became illegal and organizations worked to protect elephants, the demand — and monetary value — of ivory skyrocketed.

Today, despite being illegal in many places, you can find souvenir shops stocking ivory figurines and jewelry throughout the world, including the United States. To feed this global demand, an elephant is killed approximately 15 minutes, and rangers who protect elephants on African wildlife reserves also lose their lives. Ivory trade has become so lucrative — a billion dollar industry — that powerful crime organizations remain essentially undeterred, and lone poachers continue their work to support their families.

The once-healthy population of elephants on the continent of Africa has been slashed to approximately 600,000, and they are in danger of becoming extinct within the next decade. But hope lies in organizations like the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, who are working to save orphans whose mothers have been poached. Without mothers, the babies typically only survive a few days. Although rehabilitating young elephant calves can take years — and a lot of money — they can be prepared emotionally and physically to survive on a wildlife reserve once again.

In addition to restrictions and enforcement on illegal ivory trade, awareness of the effects is key in combating the demand. Children in China are doing what they can, signing petitions and writing letters about the elephant crisis, while celebrities like Jane Goodall, Leonardo Di Caprio and Dave Matthews are speaking out publicly. There are also several ways you can make an impact, including signing a petitionsending an elephant facts E-card, and adopting an elephant.

Check out the timeline below to learn more.

Two baboons make their way through Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, they’re some of the largest monkeys in the world.
An elephant calf guzzles down milk at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. In order to grow into healthy adults, these babies need at least 18 liters of milk every day.
The sun rises over Tsavo National Park—Kenya’s largest, and home to 11,000 African Elephants.
A giraffe peers over a bush after hearing us drive by. Native to Kenya, these creatures are the tallest land mammals on the planet.
Orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust just outside of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. They’ve all lost their parents, many to poachers.
A group of school children eagerly meet an orphaned elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Schools come here frequently to learn about elephants and see first-hand one of the forgotten faces of the poaching crisis.
While out on safari in Tsavo East National Park, we come across an impala. Their horns can grow to several feet, and they can run as fast as 35 miles per hour.
A pair of monkeys. These mischievous creatures can be seen all over the place, and as we found out first-hand, they love to steal food.
A herd of zebras in Tsavo East National Park. These creatures are incredibly shy, and a rare sight in the park.
A zebra peers out of the bushes in Tsavo.
Birds cool off from the sub-Saharan heat at a watering hole in Tsavo.
A termite hill in Tsavo East National Park. In the park, they’re everywhere, and they’re huge.
A family of elephants rest in the shade in Tsavo East National Park.
A bull elephant — weighing thousands of pounds — flaps his ears to ward us off. After this picture was taken, he began to charge.
An exotic bird in Tsavo National Park. The park is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.
Shelby Holliday adjusts our camera, before we set off in the sub-Saharan wilderness.
A park ranger for the Kenya Wildlife Service. These brave soldiers risk their lives to protect Kenya’s elephants.
On our way to a kill site on the outskirts of Tsavo. The rangers here are heavily armed, in case they encounter a hostile poacher.


  1. sunshine

    My 6th grade class watches Channel One News every day but this is the first time my students have been so moved by a story that they have said they want to comment on it. In a collective statement, here are their thoughts “We are sixth grade students at Madison Middle School in N. Hollywood. We are small voices on our own but maybe we can be big together. Hurting a living thing for profit is completely wrong, with or without a law. You might not care what we have to say at this time, but one day, we will be the ones making the laws and the consequences for breaking them. We hope with all our hearts that the people who are destroying the elephant population are punished and stopped. We have made a decision to raise money in our class to adopt an elephant. Perhaps this is just a drop added to the bucket but at least it is better than a leak.”

  2. Carolyn

    What gives us the right to kill them! We are not God! If any animal goes extint it should be because of a natural cause!

  3. Bethany

    I dont understand why people would want to kill these poor animals , what did they ever do to them is what im asking , we are all one of gods great creations and we need to respect the elephants lives that they were blessed with.

  4. Kaylin Adams

    I think it is so stupid of these people to kill these poor helpless elephants. What did the ever do to you. If I had to say something to those people I would say you are so CRUEL

  5. channel 1 news

    i wish yall luck on helping the elephants

  6. hayley

    Keep the animals from being hurt help them live they shouldn’t be treated like this. love the animals.

  7. hayley

    i think this is a cruel thing to do send those poachers to jail save the animals including the elephants.

  8. Mrs. Wooten's 5th Period Class

    My 5th period class watches Channel One news every day. We are extremely sad to hear about these beautiful elephants being killed simply for money. We wish we could adopt an elephant to help with this problem. We will continue to discuss this terrible situation, and we hope that it gets resolved.

  9. Ashlynn Riggs

    I’m very sad to hear about this. Killing an elephant for one little thing on them. That’s highly unfair. I really want these people found so they can have the most reasonable consequences. This is so serious, elephants are one of the most intelligent exotic animal out there, they can’t go extinct. It’s too soon. I’m honestly dumbfounded at how heartless people can be for money. I mean it’s just money and these elephants are leaving breathing mammals, Come on think here.

  10. William Thompson

    It is horrible how these amazing creatures are getting killed. They are amazing it it is just horrible that people are poaching them. I just am sick and tired of the stinking poachers. I just wish i could help by catching poachers.

  11. Lolita Rockwell

    It’s sad hearing that people are killing the elephants, even if their tusks are gone! Where can we adopt an elephant?

  12. Charlee

    I absolutely hate hearing about how humans kill animals. I love animals, when I hear about a poacher killing an elephant one cheetah I get so mad. That needs to stop. All the killing needs to stop! I’m sick and tired of it, just imagine if we were the animals and the animals were the poachers? It’s terrible.

  13. Ashley

    Some time I hate to be a human, cause were we are killing animals!

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