Just the mention of the word “ivory” is enough to make most people frown in disgust, but despite its bad reputation, the illegal ivory trade is still an incredibly profitable business which has serious implications for the survival of elephants around the world – especially in Africa. It is estimated that the illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007, and approximately one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for the by poachers. The African elephant population fell to around 470,000 individuals in 2014 and many scientists believe that if this pattern continues these animals will be extinct from the wild within the next 20 years.

All hope is not lost, however. In the past few years, the threat of losing the elephant has motivated many people to stand up in defense of them. In fact, there are many signs that as awareness grows for the impact of the illegal ivory trade on elephants, real positive change is being made, giving hope to elephants and those who care about them. Considering the fact that poaching is killing elephants faster than they can reproduce, this is excellent news. Many countries are beginning to take action against the ivory trade, both legal and illegal, providing hope that soon elephants will be worth more alive than dead.

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1. Increase in Ivory Crushes

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A bold step was taken by the United States on June 19, 2015, when more than a ton of ivory was destroyed in Times Square.  An industrial rock crusher ground the ivory, most of which was taken during investigations, into worthless powder.  Two years ago, a similar event was held in Denver to destroy six tons of ivory.  The Philippines, Kenya, and Gabon have held similar ivory crushing events, as well.  These events, while largely symbolic, do play a role in removing some ivory from trade.  They also show that elephants’ lives are being valued over the decorative value of ivory.

2. Ivory Bans

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Another area where progress is happening, which is arguably less exciting than crushing ivory but incredibly vital, is the implementation of ivory bans. The logistics of the ivory trade can be confusing; for example, in the United States commercial imports are not allowed but some domestic trade is permitted. Many individual states across the U.S., including New York and New Jersey have recently placed all out bans on the import and export of ivory within their borders.

China has a world’s largest market for ivory, and the country permits the trade of ivory obtained prior to the 1989 worldwide ban. The problem is this legal trade often serves as a cover for an illegal ivory trade that leads to poaching and other crimes.

The tide is turning in China, though. Many Chinese citizens support banning ivory, and China has promised it is now planning to end the processing and sale of all ivory for an entire year. The only catch is that they have not given a timeline, and are pressuring other countries, particularly the United States, to commit with them. Given China’s participation in massive ivory crushes, however, there is reason to hope China will follow through on its promise.

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3. Pressure From CITES

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Another sign that serious progress is being made to ban ivory is the actions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.  In 2013, the Thai Prime Minister announced that Thailand would end its ivory trade.  This was the result of a petition signed by nearly 1.5 million people, showing that individuals truly can have a profound impact.  Thailand has the world’s largest unregulated domestic market for ivory, so ending it would be a huge victory.

Despite this promise, in 2014 CITES, which serves as a global regulator for wildlife trading, announced it would ban Thailand from all international wildlife trading if they did not work to stop the ivory market due to a lack of progress.  This ivory is connected to organized crime and rebel militias, so it is a serious problem for the country.  CITES gave Thailand a deadline of August 2015, which is quickly approaching. If Thailand is sanctioned, it could have a huge impact since their exports of CITES items in 2012 had a value of $157 million.  This is an important sign that the international community is putting pressure on the ivory trade.

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What You Can Do

There are nearly endless options to take action against the ivory trade.  Obviously, you should never buy ivory in any form.  Another option is to find a petition to sign or contact politicians to encourage them to ban the ivory trade.  You can also support organizations like The International Fund for Animal Welfare who are working to educate people and put a stop to the killing of elephants for ivory. One little girl in Hong Kong even raised $250 to help an orphaned elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (also an excellent organization to support), so follow her example and use what you have to make a difference!

The pressure to end the ivory trade is building, and every action helps increase the odds that it will end as soon as possible.

Image Source: Benh LIEU SONG/Flickr