Rapid Assessment of the Illegal Ivory Trade in 2020

The Wildlife Justice Commission conducts intelligence-led investigations, often in an undercover capacity, where operatives pose as potential buyers. This approach allows for the capture of relevant information about commodities on the illegal market, with price values and quantities being an important aspect of this intelligence collection. The retention of this type of data facilitates an analysis on what is available in the market, its source, the methods of transportation and clearance, and changes in pricing structure along the supply chain.

From an operational perspective it means the Wildlife Justice Commission can quantify the value of wildlife crime (which is important for triggering financial investigations and to warrant asset recovery), and guide undercover operatives so that they are in a position of power when negotiating prices with wildlife suspects, in an attempt to gain the true ‘street value’ of ivory.

As of 31 December 2017, the domestic ivory trade in China was banned. This legislative change was followed by and supported with effective, coordinated, and intelligence-led law enforcement actions in China. Both measures are assessed to have had an impact upon the criminal dynamics of illegal ivory trade, according to investigative findings from the Wildlife Justice Commission. Indications of this include direct references from brokers and traffickers now reluctant to trade in raw ivory, the stockpiling of ivory in key countries along the supply chain, and a broad fall in its street value.

This briefing paper analyses the variation in the market price of raw ivory tusks from July 2017 to July 2020 in five countries in Africa and Asia. The data has been gathered by the Wildlife Justice Commission’s undercover operatives. For some countries, the data available is limited and can only be considered as indicative of the variations in value. Prices captured and analysed only relate to the sale of raw ivory.

Wildlife Justice Commission
Comparison of rates (in USD) in Western African Country, Southern Africa Country One, Southern Africa Country Two, Vietnam and Lao PDR (2017-2020).

No room for complacency

The Wildlife Justice Commission is very concerned about the current availability of ivory in the market, despite the decrease in prices and the current travel restrictions and lockdowns in place to curb the widespread of the COVID-19. During the first seven months of 2020, our undercover operatives have been offered more than 27,500 kg of ivory from investigations within nine countries in Africa and Asia. Almost half of this quantity on offer is available from just one Southeast Asian country.