The Truth About The Ivory Trade - Only 50,000 Asian Elephants Left In The Wild

The Truth About The Ivory Trade - Only 50,000 Asian Elephants Left In The Wild

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on Oct 24, 2016

With much of our focus this month being on the wonderful creatures that are elephants, it is perhaps time to shed some light on a surprisingly active, yet overwhelmingly tragic practice which has been taking place now for over a century. The trading of ivory has been prominent since the early 1900’s, and involves the (often illegal) act of obtaining tusks from animals such as the hippopotamus, narwhal and, most prominently, Asian and African elephants. Back at the turn of the 18th century, the number of African elephants alone is understood to have been around 3-5 million in the wild. Throughout the 1980’s, it is estimated that up to 100,000 elephants were being slaughtered for their tusks every year, leaving us today with just 470,000 African elephants left in the wild. As for Asian elephants, things are even bleaker, with just 40-50,000 left surviving.

So how did we get here? It has been reported that a pound of ivory can sell for as much as $1,500 on the black market, meaning that there is no surprise this vile trade is still prominent in the underbelly of society, particularly in the Far East. But even before this hushed notion of trade, the number of wild elephants was dropping at an alarming pace, and for all the more unnecessary reasons. Throughout history, ivory has been sadly viewed as a luxurious commodity, thus it was not at all uncommon to hear of rich tradesmen, royals, and affluent hunters seeking out what was sometimes known as ‘white gold’ to use as a symbol of their status. While many walks of life still fuel this trade today, it is easy to see and understand how affluence has influenced trade, igniting an ugly relationship between explorers of foreign lands and those who should have been trusted to take care of their native animals.

African elephant

While ivory has, over time, repulsed and revolted many members of society (from animal rights charities to fashion designers, the common man all the way up to stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Lupita Nyong’o), you only need to look back as recently as 2002 to see how prevalent the trade has been in the modern day – take, for example, the permission granted countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell 60 tonnes of ivory stockpiles to Japan and China. This alone goes to show how prevalent such a seemingly prehistoric act can be and, as trade is still ongoing, it proves that there is much more needed to be done before ivory trade is stamped out for good.

In 2011, an acceleration in outrage began, with illegal ivory being seized in Singapore and set alight. Reported as an ‘elephant’s graveyard giving hope to the future’, this signified not only the end of Singapore’s tolerance to the market, but to ensure that trade would never again be legal or welcome. This act was soon followed by Gabon in 2012, once again burning a large quantity of ivory in protest, and also the USA and Philippines crushing their stockpiles. Finally, in 2014, many key countries followed suit, with the UK Government holding a High-Level Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade (centred on the prevalence of ivory in particular), leading to a huge number of commitments intended to protect elephants. But there is still a long way to go. Despite all of the above efforts, the Far East alone is still rife with illegal ivory trade, and an ever-present obsession with ivory plays a huge part in numbers continuing to fall. It is estimated that as soon as 2025, elephants could actually become extinct.

Asian elephant

While it can be hurtful to know that so many countries still take part in ivory trade, it must be noted that a huge amount of income is still based on this awful act and, thus, we must ensure that our intolerance is loud and clear. Africa and Asia are now both home to multiple elephant sanctuaries, which means that the money from more ethical tourism can go into conservation for these beautiful creatures. Not only that, but volunteers are openly welcomed to take care of those that have been liberated from capture, as well as tracking new born elephants and feeding back to local governments with facts and findings on their natural behaviours. Through ethical tourism, a crack down on trade and increased awareness, we are finally beginning to see stabilisation in the number of wild elephants and, if we continue down this path, we can ensure a positive future for the next generation of animals and adventurers alike.


Share this Article...

Share this article with your friends and followers by using the social media buttons below.


Leave a Comment...

Wanting to add something to this story or just let us know your thoughts? Just leave your comments below. Please be aware that all comments will be moderated: abusive behaviour or self-promotion will not be allowed.

500 characters remaining

Has this blog inspired you to volunteer? If so, why not enquire today? Simply fill out an enquiry form, and allow a member of our travel team to assist with your query! Please note that blog comments are not monitored by the travel team, so any questions related to bookings may be missed.


Featured Blog Arcticles


Featured Videos


Check out this video where we hear from volunteer Stacey and conservation manager Judy about how valued volunteers are on the Rhino And Elephant Conservation Project. 

Check out the latest species to take refuge at the Sloth Conservation And Wildlife Experience in Costa Rica!

Check out the Perhentian Islands Marine Project to see how you can join the fight to aid marine conservation in Malaysia!

Latest Blog Arcticles


IT’S KICK OFF TIME – 2018 FIFA World Cup Begins!

IT’S KICK OFF TIME – 2018 FIFA World Cup Begins!

Today marks the official first day of 2018 FIFA World Cup!...

An Update From Samboja - The New Sun Bear Enrichment Area Is Open For Business!

An Update From Samboja - The New Sun Bear Enrichment Area Is Open For Business!

We have a wonderful weekend update for you today - the team...

World Oceans Day - The 'Race For Water' Has Begun

World Oceans Day - The 'Race For Water' Has Begun

With World Oceans Day upon us, we're taking a look at the...

Meet The Poachers Turned Staff At The Great Elephant Project

Meet The Poachers Turned Staff At The Great Elephant Project

The ethos of The Great Elephant Project is to save...

It’s Volunteers’ Week 2018! Is Last-Minute Volunteering More Exciting?

It’s Volunteers’ Week 2018! Is Last-Minute Volunteering More Exciting?

This week is Volunteers’ Week 2018 and we’re...

World Turtle Day - 129 Species At Risk Of Extinction

World Turtle Day - 129 Species At Risk Of Extinction

Did you know that the 23rd of May is World Turtle Day? Find...

12 Week Internships at the Sloth Conservation and Wildlife Experience

12 Week Internships at the Sloth Conservation and Wildlife Experience

If you're interested in a career in animal conservation or...

The Top Benefits of Volunteering - How Your Wildlife Adventure Could Change Your Life!

The Top Benefits of Volunteering - How Your Wildlife Adventure Could Change Your Life!

From the 1st of June through til the 7th, we are proud to...


Signup to our newsletter

Please read our Privacy Policy
Where you can go
Contact Info
UK Office
The Great Traveller Ltd,
3 Dairy Yard
Star Street
Ware, Hertfordshire
SG12 9BX
United Kingdom
Opening hours: 9am–5pm

T: +44(0) 208 885 4987

Foreign Office Travel Advice