TED Case Studies

Legal Elephant Ivory Trade

Case Number 483







I. Identification

1. The Issue

Elephant ivory trade has long been disputed because of the excessive manner in which it is carried out. For several years in some African nations trade was continued at high rates with no checks or regulations related to elephant poaching. As a result, a ban was placed on ivory trade and elephants were categorized as an endangered species by CITES. However, many years after the ban, elephant populations began to rise and some nations, specifically Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, lobbied to have it removed so that they could continue with ivory trade. Consequently the ban was lifted and limited ivory trade has resumed, with sales to Japan only.

2. Description

Elehpants have roamed the African continent for several centuries and in the past they were able to roam from one end of the continent to the other. Often it is believed that the elephant is a remnant from prehistoric times because of its size and ungainliness. There are two types of elephants on the earth today, one is the African elephant and the other is the Indian elephant. The two types have differences, mainly that they do not live on the same continent and their size differs considerably.

African elephants can weigh as much as 7000kg and grow up to 4 meters tall. They have a life span that can reach 80 years. Their diet is primarily vegetarian and they eat roughly 330 pounds of food each day. The habitat in which they live is varied, it ranges from savannahs to river valleys to the thornbush to the dense forest, and even to desert scrub. They can virtually live in any area because the type of food they eat is so varied, trees, fruits, and many other items. An elephant's characteristic color is a dull brown-gray.

Over the years in the nations of Africa, the elephant has come to take on a mystical or holy presense. It is a creature that people have lived and contended with for many years. Elephants are emotional and highly evolved. They live in groups and develop an emotional bond with the members of their group. These groups often have an intricate family and clan structure.

Elephants play a role in the forest. For example, the seeds that they eat and which pass through their digestive system tend to germinate better than ordinary seeds. In this sense elephants help maintain biodiversity by germinating seeds.

African elephants have ivory tusks that are valuable in certain cultures and used for different purposes. Often the ivory is hollowed out and used as an instrument or a horn. One horn is know as an "olifant" which was used in Medeival Times. African natives carve the ivory into trophies or trinkets. In Japan, where ivory trade is thriving, there is a large demand for personal ivory signature seals. In 1996 ivory carved from seventy tusks, worth $90,000 was shipped to Japan.

For years poachers have killed elephants to retrieve their tusks and then trade locally or on the international market. During the 1970s and 1980s elephant poaching had included about 1.3 million dead elephants killed for their tusks. When the excessive killing came to the attention of the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), they set out to ban the trade of ivory and consequently reduce elephant poaching. Trade was mainly conducted with the countries of the far east, China, Japan, and Taiwan. Earlier the elephant was listed by CITES on its Appendix II, which allows for limited trade. Then in January 1990 CITES proposed to ban international ivory trade and reduce the number of elephants killed. The ban did not address domestic trade of ivory and other elephant products, such as elephant meat. Specifically CITES moved the elephant to its Appendix I, which lists an animal as an endangered species and does not allow any international trade. The ban was opposed by southern African countries who needed the trade for their citizens' livelihood and they further argued that their elephant populations were not in danger of extinction.

Throughout the early 1990s illegal trade continued and in many nations poaching was on the rise, partly due to a decline in anti-poaching initiatives. However the ban did seem to take effect in three southern African nations, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Elephant populations in these countries were steadily increasing and did not appear to be endangered. For example, in Zimbabwe, there were roughly 65,000 elephants and the land could only handle half this amount. One factor that indicated the rise in elephant populations was the fact that elephant-human interaction began to increase. On their annual migrations through different parts of the continent, elephants would trample local peoples' lands and destroy their crops. Sometimes even fences could not keep elephants out from crop land. There are also cases of human deaths resulting from elephant encounters.

Protected parks were created in these nations where elephants could live without human intervention and without the fear of being killed. Unfortunately elephants have not been able to stay exclusively in the parks and they often venture out into human populated areas. In fact almost 80% of the elephant population lives outside the protected parks and regularly disturbs humans. As human poplations surronding park boundaries increase, human encounters are rising and becoming more destructive. Also the elephant's overpopulation affects the environment by trampling on natural foliage causing some forests to become grasslands. Currently some methods of birth control are under research but most forms appear to be too expensive. Additionally CITES realized two problems resulting from their ban, that indeed elephants in these countries did not need to be included in Appendix I and that there were major shortfalls in the regulations of ivory trade under the 1990 ban.

After countless human deaths and economic loss due to elephants, government officials in these countries approached CITES to lift the ban on ivory trade. They pushed CITES to downgrade the elephant from the most endangered species to Appendix II again. Despite strong opposition from the United States, France, and conservation groups, CITES lifted its ban for only three countries, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, to resume trade with Japan. Now this specific trade is unrestricted for the most part. The Japaneses pay up to 250 U.S. dollars per pound for ivory. The money earned in ivory trade will be used for conservation and development programs for villagers threatened by the elephants. Also some of the economic benefits from the trade will be supplied to local dwellers who suffer as a result of the elephants, to teach them how to gain advantage from the preservation of elephants. Additionally the lifting of the ban provides the beneficiary countries with needed hard currency.

At the time of the amendment, proposals were created to provide protection against illegal trade and poaching in other African nations with endangered elephant populations. The agreement passed allowing international trade of ivory to begin 18 months after the downlisting went into effect. Initially an experimental quota for trade will be allocated to each country, 25.3 tons for Botswana, 13.8 tons for Namibia, and 20 tons for Zimbabwe. Another aspect of the agreement involves a standing committee of CITES that can halt trade and re-transfer downlisted populations to Appendix I if it finds that illegal hunting or trade has escalated as a result of the downlisting.

After the lifting of the ban there has been an increase in poaching in Zambia, Kenya, Central African Republic, Ghana, and Congo. Also there are no checks or modes to accurately monitor whether the ivory being traded is from elephants in the specific countries or if it is illegally entering the market from other countries where ivory trade is banned. The checks are not in place because of a lack of funding and lack of personnel to keep track of any ivory entering from across borders. It is very hard to distinguish between legal ivory and illegal ivory in the market. More and more, illegally poached ivory is reaching markets.

Overall, the issue is still debated and many of the flaws associated with the lifting have not been ironed out. There appears to be a positive economic and environmental benefit of resuming ivory trade. Only time will tell whether this decision was the best for all parties involved.

3. Related Cases

Rhino Case

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Cheetah Case

Mammoth Case

Reindeer Case

Deer Case

4. Draft Author:

Jaya Mathur

April 14, 1998

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: AGRee and COMPlete

In June 1997 the ban on elephant ivory trade was lifted under CITES guidelines and then agreed upon by its member countries.

6. Forum and Scope: 4 Multilateral

The case involved several players including the member countries of CITES and the three African nations of Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

7. Decision Breadth: 3

The decision directly impacts Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe and their ability to continue ivory trade.

8. Legal Standing: TREATY

Since the ban was lifted in a multilateral forum the agreement is in the form of a treaty. Some American groups that oppose the agreement are proposing that the United States government halt about $9 million in U.S. foreign aid to poor villagers in seven African nations. This money is used to support sustainable programs that allow limited hunting of animals as a way of stimulating the local economy. Sometimes wealthy westerners pay $10,000 or more for a permit to shoot an elephant.

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: Africa

b. Geographic Site: Southern Africa

c. Geographic Impact: Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe

10. Sub-National Factors: No

11. Type of Habitat: Tropical

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: NAAP

The current status of the case involves a lifted ban on ivory trade. This decision was hotly debated and then voted upon at a CITES forum in Harare, Zimbabwe in June 1997.

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: DIRect

The lifting of the ban impacts the three nations directly in that they are able to continue their ivory trade and gain profits to improve their envorinmental conservation efforts. Also local farmers whose crops were being destroyed by large elephant populations will benefit as a result of limited elephant population expansion.

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: YES, Ivory

b. Indirectly Related to Product: YES

c. Not Related to Product: NO

d. Related to Process: YES, Speciesloss

In the process of harvesting ivory for trade, elephants are killed.

15. Trade Product Identification: Ivory as a raw product.

16. Economic Data

Some of the costs associated with resuming trade have to do with the regulation of trade and the restriction of illegal trade. The cost of passing national initiatives to implement the ban, the punishment of poachers, vigilance towards elephants, infrastructure costs to carry out the regulation. Above are listed several costs that would be incurred as a result of the ban being lifted.

Some benefits include the inflow of hard currency for beneficiary countries, crop growth/sales and safety for the natives, and the increased use of the elephant in a sustainable form of trade that benefits humans and the environment.

17. Impact of Trade Restriction: N/A

Currently there is no actual trade restriction, however previously under a trade restricted regime, elephant populations were increasing rapidly causing more elephant-human interactions, which were often deadly and mostly terrorizing and destructive.

18. Industry Sector: IVORY

19. Exporters and Importers:

Case Exporters: Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe and many other countries that continue illegally despite a ban on ivory commerce in their country.

Case Importers: Japan

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type: SPLL and potentially HABIT

Species loss is the main environmental concern, but ironically if elephant populations are allowed to grow unchecked then their presence may lead to habitat problems.

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species

Name: African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)

Type: Animal/Mammal

Diversity: There are two main types of elephants, they are the African elephant and the Indian elephant. This case involves the African elephant.

22. Resource Impact and Effect: MEDIUM and REGULatory

This case examines a balance between trade and the environment. There is a side to it that prefers to maintain elephants in their natural habitats and another side that wishes to cut down on the elephant's destructive interaction with humans.

23. Urgency of Problem: LOW

Currently elephants that reside in the three nations involved in the case are not in danger of extinction.

24. Substitutes: SYNTH and CONSV

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture: NO

26. Trans-Boundary Issues: NO

27. Rights: NO

28. Relevant Literature

Keienburg, Wolf, Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. 14, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., U.S.A. 1990.

Walker, Ernest P. Mammals of the World. Vol. 2, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1975.

Ghazi, Polly, "Too Dangerous to Trade." New Scientist. Vol. 153, (February 8,1997) pp. 12-13.

Sugal, Cheri, "Elephants of southern Africa must now pay their way." WorldWatch. Vol. 10, (September 1997) pp. 9.

"A Door is Reopened to the Ivory Trade." U.S. News and World Report. Vol. 122, (June 30, 1997) pp. 4.

"The Challenge of African Elephant Conservation." Conservation Issues. http://www.wwf.org/new/issues/apr_97/next.htm

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