New research funded by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and the conservation charities Elephant Family and Aspinall Foundation, reveals significant growth in the sale of illegal ivory in China. Researchers investigated two prominent ivory markets in China – Guangzhou and Fuzhou – and found overwhelming demand and inadequate law enforcement were the key engines driving the expansion in this illegal trade.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists Asian elephants, and some populations of African elephants, under Appendix I. Species listed under Appendix I are illegal in commercial trade (except in special licensed circumstances), because they are threatened by extinction or could be negatively affected by trade.
Regardless, the Elephant Trade Monitoring System (ETIS), which tracks global ivory and elephant product confiscations for CITES parties, shows a trend in the illegal trade of ivory that has been growing since 1998 as a direct result of emerging demand in China. The increase in demand has led to the poaching of thousands of elephants each year –with Asian elephants being particularly threatened as their population in the wild is down to an estimated 40,000 spread across a fragmented and shrinking habitat, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
“Poaching of elephants is very clearly driven by the market for their ivory. If you can control that market you stand a better chance of saving elephants as well as the people that risk their lives protecting them,” explains Assistant Curator at the Columbus Zoo Harry Peachey. “Understanding what happens to the ivory after an elephant is poached is just as important to controlling this epidemic as is protection of elephants in the wild.”
To combat these issues and more, AZA-accredited zoos participate in more than 85 elephant conservation and research projects, which include field-based training of park guards and land managers, habitat restoration, activities focused on reducing human-elephant conflict, ecotourism, and community-based initiatives. AZA institutions caring for elephants have provided millions in support of elephant conservation projects around the world.
If you’re interested in supporting global elephant conservation efforts, please visit your local AZA-accredited zoo. You can also visit the International Elephant Foundation website to show your support.