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Ivorys Curse

Born Free USA Exposes the Bloody Ivory Trade

It has been a quarter century since Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) placed all African elephants on Appendix I, thus eliminating commercial trade in elephant ivory. This uniform global prohibition on ivory commercialization demonstrably reduced elephant poaching, helped elephant populations to stabilize, dried up some ivory markets, and essentially made it taboo to acquire elephant ivory.

All elephant ivory is bloody ivory.

Since then, some southern African countries, namely Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, have relentlessly pursued the reopening of the ivory trade. After exerting significant political pressure, they have succeeded in securing sales of stockpiled ivory to China and Japan. This inexplicable backpedal on the international ivory trade ban has stimulated markets, demand, and ultimately elephant poaching, to supply the trade.

The bloody ivory trade was renewed.

In recent years, however, it has been revealed that significant criminal syndicates and organized terrorist gangs have engaged in elephant poaching to acquire ivory, which they sell for arms to ply their deadly activities.

Born Free USA, seeking an accurate and complete picture of the depths of this nefarious activity, commissioned C4ADS and its expert defense analysts to examine the military, national security, and localized conflict aspects of elephant poaching and the ivory trade to reveal, in detail, the threats to elephants across Africa. Ivory's Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa was released April 21, and its findings are truly alarming.

  • From Sudan, government-allied militias complicit in the Darfur genocide fund their operations by poaching elephants hundreds of miles outside North Sudan's borders.
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, state security forces patronize the very rebels they are supposed to fight, providing them with weapons and support in exchange for ivory.
  • Zimbabwean political elites, including those under international sanction, are seizing wildlife spaces that either are, or are likely to soon be, used as covers for poaching operations.
  • In East Africa, al-Shabaab and Somali criminal networks are profiting off of Kenyan elephants killed by poachers using weapons leaked from local security forces.
  • Mozambican organized crime has militarized and consolidated to the extent that it is willing to battle the South African army and well-trained ranger forces for rhino horn.
  • In Gabon and the Republic of Congo, ill-regulated forest exploitation is bringing East Asian migrant laborers, and East Asian organized crime, into contact with Central Africa's last elephants.
  • In Tanzania, political elites have aided the industrial-scale depletion of East Africa's largest elephant population.
View Image Gallery Violent incidents mapped
over elephant ranges
View Image Gallery

Born Free USA will use this significant, timely, and shocking report to encourage legislators, conservation authorities, and defense agencies to focus their attention, resources, and efforts on the elephant poaching hotspots we've identified, and exert appropriate pressure at all levels to stop the bloody ivory trade.

The scourge of elephant poaching has reached crisis — historically shocking — levels, with an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 elephants poached per year. As a result, certain populations of African elephants are now vulnerable to extinction and may not withstand these poaching thresholds much longer. And, when these elephants disappear, if ivory markets are not eliminated, demand will lead poaching operations further south, attacking the southern African elephant populations, as well.

Immediate, robust, and unequivocal action is required if we are to beat back the elephant murderers and ivory profiteers.

For some shocking footage of the illegal trade in African ivory; watch this short clip for the documentary Pembe Ya Ndovu. WARNING: Graphic Footage (Credit: Steve Taylor, Green Heart Films).

The brutality of elephant poaching — entire families gunned down, individual animals' faces sawed in two to extract the coveted ivory tusks — should be enough to persuade a global crackdown on the ivory trade. But, the Born Free USA-commissioned Ivory's Curse adds substantial firepower to the argument, and should end the debate. This report should convince anyone who cares about elephants — or the people who are similarly subjected to violence and bloodshed — that the bloody ivory trade must end, once and for all.

Read the full report »