Image by Neil and Zulma Scott

Can we beat wildlife trafficking?

The Beloved Elephant

The African elephant population has declined from twelve million to three-hundred and fifty in just a century. More than one-hundred thousand African elephants were poached in 2006-2015, for their tusks. Commercial international trade of ivory is prohibited under the convention of international trade in endangered species and the IUCN Red List. Despite the bans on domestic ivory trade, poaching continues, with high demand in 2019 from China (£1.27B), Nigeria (£1.0B), France (£800M), USA (£400M).​

Elephant carcasses were discovered near or close to saltpans. In 2013, The Telegraph recorded 300 elephant deaths. The Guardian recorded over 20,000 deaths; Zimbabwe Standard recorded 500 deaths.​

Chemical poisoning of wildlife was promoted in 2013, a total of forty cyanide-contaminated sites were recorded by the local authorities in Zimbabwe.​ In 2013 the local authorities retrieved only fifty-one tusks.​

In 2018, China banned trade for elephant ivory. Poachers here annually murdered 30,000 African elephants for intricate carvings, ornaments and chopsticks. Xiangya means, “elephant tooth,” in Chinese culture this has led many to believe ivory can be taken from the elephant without inflicting harm. In 2007, 70% of poachers did not realise the elephant had to be killed to take its tusks.​

During 2019, purchases from tourists increased by 27% but purchases from retailers decreased. In 2020 there was an 88% decline in ivory sales.

UNODC’s World Wildlife Crime Report found 2,772 pieces of elephant tusks at the Nigerian Apapa Ports.​

Cheryl Lo, the Wildlife Crime manager for WWF-Hong Kong, said, “Making the Chinese ban a real turning point in the elephant poaching crisis means closing the remaining markets in Asia and stamping out consumer demand.” To successfully reduce elephant ivory trade, WWF aim to recognise ivory consumers and understand their energy to buy ivory.


The head of conservation programs at The Royal Foundation, Naomi Doak said, “We have to address demand if we are ever going to truly tackle the poaching of elephants for ivory.”​ Ivory is beautiful, rare and extremely valuable. It is known to be a luxury item called “white gold”, people display ivory to flaunt their wealth, show off ‘high-end art.’

In 2016, The Great Elephant Census found 352,271 savanna elephants. Their population dropped by 30% in seven years. In Africa elephant meat ‘bushmeat’ is considered a delicacy, selling at almost £6,000.

Since 2006, more than 90% of forest elephants habitat has been chopped down for the pink ivory. Forest elephants are commonly killed in Tri-National-Dja-Odzala-Minkébé, this is close to Dzanga Sangha Reserve in the Central African Republic.

Orji Sunday, a Lagos journalist said that, a part of the problem is that the high prices made by middle-men to attract rural hunters, who tend to be poor and cut off from other economic opportunities.

In 2016, the French Minister announced absolute ban on ivory sales, Between 2011 and 2014 780kg ivory items were traded, between 2003 and 2014, 92% of EU ivory exports were sent to China and Hong Kong. In 2018 French authorities destroyed over 500kg of ivory as a part of the international campaign to end elephant poaching.​

Ségolène Royal a French politician and socialist party candidate declared a ceremony to extinguish 105 tons of ivory. The president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta organised the event, which took place in Nairobi. The ceremony was directed towards poachers who continue to distribute, noting that since the ban ivory workers from Dieppe have viewed the law as erroneous.​

In 2018, ivory items were bought disregarding illegal activity. 74.3% was illegal traded across the EU, 85% of the 74.3% was traded in France.​

Since the ban of ivory trade in America was announced in 2016, on average 20,000 African elephants are killed illegally, for their tusks. Through the AfECA, it is illegal to import raw ivory and to export raw ivory from the US. US law enforcement set up contact for anyone spotting illegal trade, 703-358-1949.

2010 to 2012 100,000 African elephants were poached, approximately 96 elephants were killed per day. The US is one of the larger worldwide markets and during the ban, there have been several arrests resulting in over a million dollars in ivory.

In the US, ivory is still in high demand within the black market and criminal syndicates. The ban applies to commercial, import, export and interstate trade and only 10% of illegal ivory is confiscated. However, the ban allows commercial exporting and trading of antique, manufactured and handcrafted items that contain small amounts of imported ivory. Illegal ivory is carved into jewellery, netsuke and trinkets and advertised as antiques.

Identifying the age of ivory is extremely difficult, nearly impossible, costing $500 a test, to determine the age.

In 2012, both of Donald Trump’s sons were identified in trophy hunting. Donald Jr. and Eric have been captured holding a dead elephant tail, seen standing next to a hanging crocodile and gripping a dead leopard. This has since followed them across all social media platforms and journalism. The reason Donald Jr had was, “elephants are overpopulated in the area the Trumps hunted and so need to be hunted to prevent them from further destroying their habitat.”

Conservationists have said that elephants are in sharp decline because of trophy hunting and poaching.

In 2014 the Obama administration’s US fish and wildlife service banned the import of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe because of the failed elephant management within Zimbabwe. However, in 2017, FWS told that as a part of the sound management programme sport hunting can be beneficial to certain species if the hunters provide revenue to conservations. Safari Club International, Hunting Rights Group and the National Rifle Association applauded this.

American trophy hunters have a far more significant impact on wildlife than other countries. They imported over 1.26 million wild animals in-between 2005-2014. Most of these animals originate from South Africa and Canada with New York as the main port of entry because of its international transport connections.

In 2018, This Morning Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield interviewed an American mother of four about her killing one-hundred animal species, the mother, ‘Olivia Opre’ states that hunting brings her closer to the wild and culture. Olivia states that hunting pushes her to test her limits and step outside of her comfort zone, to connect with the wild.​

Olivia later says hunting helps protect wildlife from locals and other poachers and that wildlife are sustainable.

Later in the interview, Giles Clark said hunters have a fantasy about poaching, from his perspective he has experienced connecting with nature by not having to kill its endangered wildlife. Giles continues to say that poaching and trophy hunting is entirely unnecessary and disrupts ecology.

Human and wildlife conflict has become a widely known issue, hunters believe the solution is to kill the wildlife, however this is completely false, this will disturb the ecosystem.

​Elephants are a key species that disperse seeds, they are responsible for nearly 95% of seed dispersion. As the number of elephants decrease, so do trees. This becomes an issue for flora growth and wild herbivores. Elephants are known to create watering holes in dry riverbeds, for the entire community of species to use. Elephants also maintain open grasslands and fertilise soil with their rich manure and nutrients.

Image by Neil and Zulma Scott

The Most Trafficked Mammal

Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world. Approximately 200,000 pangolins are poached every year. It is unknown how many are left in the wild.​ Over 300 WildAid partners have trained law enforcement specialists to interdict shipments.​ There are eight pangolin species in the world; Indian, Chinese, Sunda and Philippine; white-bellied pangolin, black-bellied pangolin, giant pangolin and Temminck’s pangolin. All are under protection.

Pangolins play a critical role in their ecosystem, they provide nature pest control, pangolins consume up to 70 million insects a year: ants and termites.

Pangolin is traded as meat delicacy in China and Vietnam, their meat is believed to have health benefits that nourish kidneys, despite lack of evidence. Pangolin scales are used as an ingredient in Asian medicine to help breast feeding women lactate milk and to cure asthma, psoriasis and cancer, again there is no scientific results claiming pangolin scales actual heal severe human health.​

In June 2020, the Chinese government announced that they no longer approve of scales in medicinal drugs. Despite a global ban of international trade of scales in 2017, 51 tonnes were held in 2019, transported through Nigeria. In 2018, IFAW supported the China-Vietnam cross-border law enforcement, within a month, three containers were seized by Vietnam Customs, transferred across Nigeria.​

Malayan pangolins were amongst the first animals suspected to carry the coronavirus. Rare and endangered animals are commonly sold in wildlife markets ‘wet markets’, in China. A wet market vendor said it couldn’t have been them who brought the COVID-19 disease to light. The same month the first case of coronavirus occurred; Chinese customs officials discovered 10 tons of pangolin scales.

In mid-2019 the Wildlife Conservation Network aimed to save pangolins, ‘pangolin crisis fund’, it was the first ever funding mechanism focused on increasing resources to protect all eight species from extinction. $1.4 million has been raised to help successful, collaborative approaches to protect the pangolins.​

In February 2020, China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress has been quoted saying, “toughen the crackdown on wildlife trafficking, the supervision, inspection and law enforcement should be strengthened to ensure that wildlife trade markets are banned and closed.”​

Wet markets are not very sanitary, despite sellers calling their products ‘fresh’. Ideally wet markets should be closed on count for the diseases or the food being sold should be health checked and properly registered, in case of illegal trading.​ Captive breeding farms were forced to close down in February 2020, leaving the farms worried about finding new sources of income, potentially pushing them into the black market.​

Havocscope collects black market crime statistics and data from around the world and what is currently available to buy; exotic animals; pets, food, medical use or ornaments. Wildlife trafficking is worth roughly 19 billion, in the black market. Which is why it is and can be an option for many people.​


Elizabeth Mrema, an acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biology Diversity said, “for a transition out of the wildlife trade to be socially acceptable and effective, it is essential that the identification of alternative livelihood options is carried out.” She followed with, “this must be done in consultation with, rather than imposed on communities.”​ China’s ban on wildlife spending has been accepted by conservation groups and public health experts.

Vietnam is the destination, transit and origin of trafficked pangolins. From 2011 to 2015 Vietnam was involved in 90 pangolin smuggling cases. In October 2018, 6 tonnes of pangolin scales were restrained at Da Nang, the transport was expected to be moved from Nigeria.​

Since 2018 pangolins have been protected by the Revised Penal Code 2017. Killing, transporting, trading, storing and selling is considered illegal. Individual violators could be imprisoned for up to 15 years or fined up to £455,310 (5 billion VND) and a permanent suspension.

In April 2018 3.8 tons of scales were seized in Ho Chi Minh City from Congo. In October 2018 Da Nang City authorities detained 6 tons of scales transported from Nigeria.​

Vietnamese pangolin poachers are often hired by middlemen, for a small wager. According to the USAid survey in 2016, buyers of pangolin are typically 35–38-year-old men who have high income, even government officials have been identified as buyers.​

In July 2020 Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc has banned imports and online sales of any wildlife trade. Online trade of animals is common on Facebook, sellers advertise exotic animals as pets or food. Pangolins are photographed stored in a freezer.​

During the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown, throughout 2020, only 466 shifts of pangolin scales were seized. Steve Carmody, a chief of investigations at the Wildlife Justice Commission said that, “it’s a snapshot of what’s to come.” Illegal traders are stockpiling wildlife products because of the interruptions caused by the pandemic.

Carmody says, “we know traffickers are stockpiling products not just in Africa, but also in Asia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - in huge quantities.”​

In 2020 countries like Uganda, Madagascar and other places with low tourism and irregular financial income have relied on transportation and shipping of wildlife because the people living there are in poverty.