World Elephant Day: No room for complacency in the fight against ivory trafficking

The data obtained by our undercover operatives from five countries along the supply chain finds fluctuations in the market value of raw ivory tusks between 2017 to 2020. Analysed by our Intelligence Development Unit, preliminary indications point to an overall drop in the value of raw ivory since 2017. However, we continue to be concerned about the availability of ivory: in 2020 our investigators have been offered over 27,500 kg of ivory. World Elephant Day serves as a reminder of the on-going need for a coordinated, intelligence-led response to meaningfully curb the trafficking of ivory and protect elephants.

Key findings

Data gathered by our undercover operatives indicates an overall declining trend in the street value offered for raw ivory in Vietnam, Lao PDR and three African countries1, all of which are important along the supply chain, between July 2017 to July 2020. This trend is especially notable in African countries, where the rate per kg has dropped by an approximately 50% during the analysed period.

Of the countries analysed, Vietnam recorded many fluctuations in the value for raw ivory over the four years, with many low values recorded since 2017. The other four countries have only registered their lowest rate for ivory in 2020. In Lao PDR, ivory prices have been as much as three times higher than in Vietnam, probably due to the fact that the prices quoted are for smaller quantities of raw ivory; larger-scale stashes of ivory are more commonly available in Vietnam which commands a lower rate per kg.

The differences in prices between African and Asian countries can likely be attributed to associated costs for smuggling ivory that has originated from Africa into Asia, such as transportation, corrupt payments and broker commissions.

Chart 1: Comparison of rates (in USD) in Western African Country, Southern Africa Country One, Southern Africa Country Two, Vietnam and Lao PDR (2017-2020)
Chart 1: 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.

Table 1: Total quantity (in kg) of ivory offered per country.
Country Quantity in kg
Southeast Asian Country One12,150
West African Country Two10,000
Southern African Country Three3,000
Southern African Country Two1,000
Southern African Country One1,000
East-Central African Country One200
Western African Country One60
Southeast Asian Country Two100
Southeast Asian Country Three20


Although this ivory on offer may be sourced from stockpiles stored by criminal networks and not  from recently poached elephants, the availability of such large quantities indicates the versatility of criminal networks trading in wildlife, which have adapted and are able to operate despite the current global crisis scenario.

The application of intelligence analysis and advanced investigative techniques, along with international collaboration and coordination, are crucial to effectively disrupt the criminal networks profiting from wildlife to secure the protection of elephants in the long-term.

Read here: Rapid Assessment of the Illegal Ivory Trade in 2020

1 African countries are not disclosed in this assessment due to ongoing operational developments.