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Are Elephants Endangered?

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

massive elephant ivory tusks
Photographer @nickbrandtphotography

What is the illegal ivory trade?

The illegal ivory trade feeds terrorism and drains Africa of some of its greatest assets. The international trade in elephants, rhinos and other species is the second-largest threat to wildlife after habitat loss. If the market continues to drive poaching, both rhinos and elephants could vanish from the wild as early as 2034 (

China has the biggest ivory trade in the world and wildlife experts believe that around 70% of the world's ivory ends up there. In 2015, China agreed to ban ivory tusks and ornaments coming into the country for twelve months. The government has said it wanted to completely ban ivory sales soon but still legal to sell older carvings and ornaments.

chinese ivory market
The Chinese government has started cracking down on illegal ivory and has destroyed lots of tusks and ornaments.

When did the ivory ban start? In 1990 an international ban on sale of ivory started which led to a rise in elephant population. But in 1999 and 2008, two sales were allowed which many think kick-started poaching again. Currently, there is an international ban on buying and selling it across borders, but it is allowed inside certain countries (BBC).

Some countries believe they should be able to trade legal ivory because they can use the money to pay for elephant conservation projects and other positive things. Many other countries believe the ivory trade should be banned completely in order to save elephants, as having any ivory trade at all encourages criminals to continue poaching.

When did China ban ivory?

All trade in ivory and ivory products in the country is now illegal. The ban came into effect on Sunday 31st Dec, 2017. The move is being hailed as a major development in efforts to protect the world's elephant population.

State media, Xinhua, said there had already been a 65% decline in the price of raw ivory over the past year. and that there had also been an 80% decline in seizures of ivory entering China.

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) said it was "delighted to see the doors of the world's largest ivory market close".#

"This is a significant step that should prove to be a huge boost to elephant protection efforts in Africa," said WWF's Africa director Fred Kumah in a blog post. (BBC)

However, is it too little, too late?

big old elephant bull
One of the 'Big Tuskers' from the region

How poachers kill elephants?

Poaching techniques are varied from using poisoned-tipped arrows, snares, guns, axes to helicopter attacks. In 2014, reports from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) showed that 80% of ivory seizures occur in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

(The Guardian)

Apart from Prince William’s and Hillary Clinton’s leadership on this issue, western governments have been slow to deliver on promises to fund elephant conservation in Africa. Ivory estimated to weigh more than 23 metric tons — a figure that represents 2,500 elephants — was seized in the 13 largest seizures of illegal ivory in 2011. In Uganda, a 2014 audit revealed that 1.3 tons of ivory went missing from the national stockpile. (The Guardian)

poaching weapons snares spears
Makonde poisoned arrows and spears used by poachers in Niassa Reserve, N. Mozambique

How has the elephant population changed?

  • Around 30,000 elephants are killed every year – that 1 every 15 minutes, on average, around 100 elephants every single day (BBC)

  • Approximately 100,000 elephants in Africa were killed for their ivory in just three years between the years 2010 & 2012 (

  • The effect of the illegal ivory trade is being felt across Africa. In just one park in Tanzania, Selous, 67% of the elephants were slaughtered over a four-year period (The Guardian)

  • Ongoing surveys and reports are revealing the near annihilation of elephants in Democratic Republic of the Congo and the South Sudan (The Guardian)

  • In 2014 the Great Elephant Consensus was launched to count the number of elephants in Africa and in 2016 the count showed that 1 in 3 elephants has died in the last 7 years with fewer than 400,000 remaining

How long do elephants live?

African bush elephant 56 years (17 years for females in captivity)

Asian elephant 42 years (19 years for females in captivity)

Elephants bred and born in captivity die earlier than those imported into zoos from the wild.

large horn white rhino
The white rhino's name comes from the Afrikaans word “weit”, which means wide and refers to the animal's large, square lipped mouth which is used to graze. They are also the most social of all rhino species.

What is the rhino population?

  • In just a decade, more than 7,245 African rhinos were lost to poaching (

  • 3 rhinos are poached for their horn every day on average across Africa (

  • 2 rhino species have fewer than 80 individual animals left in the wild (

  • Rhino poaching between 2007-2014 in South Africa grew by 9246% (

Just over a century ago there were over one million rhinoceros in Africa; now, poaching has directly led to the extinction of wild rhinoceros in Mozambique, most of western Africa, and many other regions across the continent.

For Africa as a whole, the total number of rhinos poached during 2015 was the highest it had been in two decades. As of 2018, the global rhino population is still increasing, but only just.

Who are poachers in Africa?

We compiled an article on one particularly nasty poacher last month. 'Navara' is an individual who is reputedly the most notorious, violent poacher and boss of a criminal gang in Mozambique. It was written by Bartholomäus Grill, an acquaintance of author and co-contributor to Continental Shift's blogs, Al J. Venter.

Bartholomäus and his cameraman were taken hostage by Navara and his chilling account can be read here.

What is the impact of poaching on the environment?

The most obvious impact is a depletion in the number of wildlife present in a given area. The defaunation of an area due to poaching flows from the immediate impact of killing an existing animal, the medium term effect of reducing breeding numbers and hence the rate of reproduction, and the long term effects of thinning the gene pool and the interdependent - and often irreversible – impact this has on overall biodiversity.

What is the cost of ivory?

At its peak in 2014 wholesale prices for raw ivory stood at $2,100 (1,900 euros) per kilogramme in Chinese markets, but by 2017 the price had fallen to $730 per kilogramme, according to the report by two ivory trade experts, Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin.

(Esmond Martin was stabbed to death earlier this year in Nairobi, as reported by the BBC).

"Findings from 2015 and 2016 in China have shown that the legal ivory trade especially has been severely diminished," Vigne reported in a statement back in 2017.

She said both the amount of ivory for sale as well as prices had fallen at 130 licensed outlets in China, reflecting a drop in demand in the world's biggest ivory market. (

However, a simple, plain ivory bracelet now can go for as much as $2,000 USD in China and there seems to be no upper limit on what someone can pay.

National Geographic's investigations revealed insights into the ivory trade, which is causing elephant numbers to fall to lower levels than ever recorded. Following the international ban on trading ivory, CITES (as mentioned previously) allowed two large auctions of stockpiled ivory.

Their cameras were allowed into a luxury goods store showroom in Beijing, where Bryan Christy explains how those auctions complicate what's for sale legally and what's not.

Watch these two, 3-4 minute videos by National Geographic on their findings from their investigations:

Battle for the Elephants Episode 3: The China Ivory Market

Battle for the Elephants Episode 4: Massive Ivory Stockpile

How to help stop poaching?

There are many mainstream organisations that delivery effective anti poaching and conservation support. Here are the direct links a few:

Continental Shift has teamed up with Friends of Rietvlei, who are a volunteer led organisation who are actively involved in the fight against Rhino poaching and nature conservation of the fauna and flora in the Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Pretoria.

Unfortunately they have been the target of more than one attack of their own rhinos by a highly organised syndicate using helicopters and ground crew, who managed to kill and dehorn some of the rhinos.

5% of Continental Shift's profits from wildlife art sales by Zimbabwean artist Larry Norton goes to this foundation. Learn more!


Following my sister’s recent trip to Kenya and Tanzania, where she visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary, we are now in discussions about setting up a similar arrangement as with Friends of Rietvlei. We’ll keep you posted….

African and big cat wildlife art by hyperrealist artist, Anthony Walker.

View his work on African animals and big cats here.

-- Graham Davis Conservation Captured in Art Continental Shift Ltd.

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