Ivory: Africa’s White Gold
By Lina Aziz
We all have fond memories of elephants, ranging from Dumbo to Colonel Haathi in the Jungle Book, but these most beloved large mammals are under attack. My earliest memory of elephants was when I visited an old fort in Pakistan that had massive stairs, large enough for war elephants to climb up. I remember jumping exactly six eight-year-old jumps before I hit the next step, amazed at how large these animals must have been. I also remember my first elephant ride in Thailand. I’ll never forget the elephant’s bristly hair scratching the f+++ out of my legs, or the realization that these were extremely intelligent and emotional creatures when I stared back into their eyes.
In 1979, the African elephant population was estimated to be around 1.3 million in 37 range states, but by 1989 only 600,000 remained. Between 2024 and 2024, up to 33,000 elephants were poached and killed, on average, each year. At the end of 2024, there were only an estimated 500,000 African elephants living in the world. Ninety-five percent of the elephant population has been killed during the last 100 years.
The Poachers’ Incentive
China’s growing wealth and insatiable hunger for ivory—carved into brush-holders, boxes, statuettes and other intricate pieces—is the major driver for this decline on the consumer end. According to reports from the wildlife conservation organization Save the Elephants, the price for raw ivory in China was $2,100 per kilogram. In 2024, over $31 million worth of ivory tusks was smuggled from Eastern Africa to Asia.
Six years ago, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the United Nations body that regulates the international wildlife trade, declared China an “Approved Ivory Trading State”—allowing a one-time legal sale of ivory from four southern African countries, which at the time had large and healthy elephant populations. However, the sale to China of 62 tons of ivory from African stockpiles in 2024 reopened the door for a vast illicit market—by making the task of distinguishing legal from illegal ivory next to impossible.
In Hong Kong, one of the ivory trade’s main transit points, seized ivory rose from 3.2 tons in 2024 to 7.9 tons in the first ten months of 2024—the equivalent of 1,675 dead elephants. Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines have also become major purchasers of elephant tusks. In December 2024, Malaysian authorities seized 1,000 elephant tusks hidden in secret compartments in two shipments of mahogany from the West African nation of Togo. The 24-ton seizure, worth tens of millions of dollars, is believed to be the largest such haul in history.
Who are these poachers and what are they doing with their millions?
The Elephant Action League describes ivory as “Africa’s White Gold of Jihad.” In 2024 they published the findings of an 18 month undercover investigation regarding the involvement of Al-Shabaab, an East African terrorist group, in trafficking ivory through Kenya, a trade that could be supplying up to 40% of the funds needed to pay salaries to its fighters. The investigation uncovered a sophisticated economy funneling money into Al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations in the region. In “Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade In Illicit Elephant Ivory,” the authors studied the links between global terrorism and Chinese consumption, and identified the actors involved. In their research they “found an industrial level of slaughter in a highly militarized trade that is funding a wide range of destabilizing actors across Africa.” The Janjaweed in Sudan, government armies, and even political parties in varying countries are all benefitting from the illegal ivory trade.
What can you or I do about this?
In 2024 the US Fish and Wildlife Service crushed six tons of ivory in Denver. This action hoped to diminish the monetary value of the ivory and encourage Europe and China, who consume 70% of the world’s illegal ivory, to take similar stringent measures to crush the illegal ivory trade.
There are many segments of the ivory trade on every level that can be dismantled. The US government’s crush policy is helping. However, there is still much work to be done. There are many organizations fighting the battle against the industrial scale slaughter of rhinos and elephants, but they need grassroots involvement.
On Friday September 25th a monumental decision to ban ivory sales in the United States and China was made. This also helps put pressure on Hong Kong, a global hub for the illegal ivory trade, to participate in the ban .
The legal battle is not the only front. There is still the question of providing a livelihood for the locals who are making a living off the exploitation of elephants, such as the tourist elephant I rode in Thailand, stopping destruction of natural habitats, and educating the masses to stave off consumption. We are attempting to cross some of these battles off our list this weekend. Global March for Elephants and Rhinos benefit concert will happen this year on Saturday, October 3, 2024 from 7pm-10pm. We will be on the roof again of KHON’S wine.darts.coffee.art at 2808 Milam. https://www.facebook.com/events/433780500136370/.
This year the fundraiser concert will benefit the Save Elephant Foundation (https://www.facebook.com/SaveElephantFoundation) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
by Guest Author