Q&A: Landmark Report Reveals Crucial Links in the Illegal Ivory Trade

While there are effectively unlimited numbers of poachers and consumers fueling the lucrative illegal ivory market, a new report suggests that nearly all the ivory shuttled from Africa to Asia—the biggest market—is confined to as few as 200 shipping containers a year.

This “transit or supply chain is the single greatest point of vulnerability in the illicit ivory system,” says Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free, an anti-poaching group based in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, the group issued what it calls a “landmark” study on how illegal ivory is moved from Africa to Asia. Called “Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory,” the study was conducted over three months by C4ADS, an NGO that seeks to shed light on global conflict and security issues through research and analysis.

Here, Roberts talks about ivory trafficking syndicates, the African ports that ship out most of the ivory, and why it makes most sense for law enforcement to target that link in the overall trade chain.

The report says that too much attention is paid to the beginning and end of the ivory supply chain—on poaching and demand—and that more should be paid to how ivory is transported.

The priority has been focused historically on that which is readily accessible. Images of elephant carcasses littering the African savanna show the poaching problem. Ivory for sale in China and other East Asian markets shows the demand problem. But the intervening supply is hidden from sight.

Born Free has seen a strong focus on poaching and also on demand, but the third aspect of the trade—the movement of ivory from the dead elephant to the consumers’ hands—is a vital focus and provides a further pressure point to stop the trade and save elephants.

Read the full story on our daily news page.

Changing Planet

,

Christina Russo is a freelance journalist. For nearly 15 years, she has worked as a producer for a number of public radio programs, including NPR/WBUR’s "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook. Christina also freelances for Yale Environment 360, where her written work focuses mainly on wildlife conservation issues. She is the co-producer, with WBUR, of the nationally syndicated documentary on American zoos, From Cages to Conservation. She has written numerous articles about animals, including a story about caring for donkeys in Ethiopia; a veterinarian saving horses in Sonoma County, CA; an elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand; and the work of pre-eminent whale biologist Roger Payne for her hometown newspaper, The Gloucester Daily Times.