Record weights of ivory seizures in pre-pandemic data remains of concern, but also indicates promising signs of enhanced enforcement work amid continued illegal trade

Updated on 28 October 2022

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Record weights of ivory seizures in pre-pandemic data remains of concern, but also indicates promising signs of enhanced enforcement work amid continued illegal trade


Cambridge, Geneva, 24 March 2021 - The most recent seizure data from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) shows that despite reporting gaps, there was a marked increase in the total weight of ivory seized during 2019 compared to the previous three years. The year 2019 saw three of the largest weight seizures ever recorded by the monitoring system.

The report prepared by TRAFFIC in consultation with the MIKE-ETIS Technical Advisory Group and in collaboration with the CITES Secretariat, was published on the CITES website on March 24.

The report is based on almost 28,000 records of elephant specimen seizures reported to ETIS from 1989 to 2019. Compared to the ETIS report to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (Geneva, 2019), this latest report incorporates additional data submitted to ETIS in 2018 and 2019.

However, data gaps remain a significant challenge for analysing trends in illegal ivory trade and for the interpretation of ETIS data: of the 45 countries that have regularly submitted data to ETIS since 2013, 23 countries had not yet submitted data for 2018, 2019, or both years, before the closing date of the analysis.

Reports from Parties to ETIS for 2019 show that more than 42 tonnes of ivory were seized that year, making it the fourth largest annual tally throughout the period 1989 - 2019. The year 2019 was also characterized by three exceptionally large ivory seizures in Asia, consisting of raw ivory seized in China (7,482 kg), Singapore (8,795 kg), and Viet Nam (9,104 kg). Logo of the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS)

Ms. Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary-General said: “The three large-scale ivory seizures remain a cause of serious concern because of the marked increase over a long period of time. We must not waver in our efforts to combat wildlife crime for the conservation of this keystone species. These seizures demonstrate, however, the Parties’ implementation efforts and the efficiency of enforcement agencies working to disrupt criminal networks involved in trafficking. We continue to encourage Parties to submit seizure data in a timely manner. This is essential to inform both individual and collective steps Parties may need to take in the future to end ivory trafficking.”

Steven Broad, TRAFFIC’s Executive Director said: “The prevalence of such large-scale seizures is worrying, as it is often an indication of trade by organized crime. However, it remains uncertain whether these movements represent strategic re-positioning of stockpiles as part of longer-term investment or new illegal trade flows driven by persistent demand in end markets.” 

In response to a 2018 request from the CITES Standing Committee, TRAFFIC conducted a survey in 2020 to better understand Parties’ ETIS data collection and submission processes and procedures. Twenty Parties provided responses to a questionnaire prepared for the purposes of the survey. These responses revealed a need to clarify the scope of the data to be reported to ETIS.

The survey further showed that there are significant reporting gaps concerning seizures made domestically by some Parties. The lack of reporting on such domestic seizures represents an important data gap and poses a significant challenge in the task of accurately determining the true dimension of the global illegal ivory trade.

An encouraging finding of the survey is that Parties demonstrated great interest in using the newly available ETIS Online website, which now enables them to submit their data to ETIS  directly in a simplified and user-friendly manner, while also being able to access all data submitted by them.

Launched in October 2020, the new website allows countries to view, upload and download their ETIS data. It is expected that ETIS Online will have a positive influence on data submission, which will assist in addressing some of the data gaps that currently exist.

The CITES Secretariat encourages all Parties that have not done so yet to report seizures of illegal ivory and other elephant specimens made within their territories to ETIS, in accordance with the provisions outlined in Notification No. 2021/011, dated 22 January 2021.  This data is paramount to the trend analyses that will be conducted for presentation to the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in 2022.

ETIS was established by CITES Parties in 1998, following a Resolution passed at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP10, 1997, Harare). It serves as a comprehensive database to record levels of, and determine trends in, illegal trade in elephant specimens and any changes in these levels and trends.

ETIS is managed by TRAFFIC on behalf of the CITES Secretariat, and in consultation with the MIKE-ETIS Technical Advisory Group. Parties are required to report annual elephant ivory seizures to ETIS by March 31 of the proceeding calendar year.



TRAFFIC: Melissa Matthews, Head of Communications, + 44 7436 786756, [email protected]

CITES Secretariat: Francisco Pérez, +41 22 917 1447, [email protected]