Elephant poaching and ivory smuggling figures released today

Updated on 05 August 2022

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Elephant poaching and ivory smuggling figures released today

Poaching levels remain alarmingly high at over 20,000. More large ivory seizures
in Africa than Asia for the first time

Geneva, 13 June 2014 – Over 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013 according to a report released today by the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Although the sharp upward trend in illegal elephant killing observed since the mid-2000s, which had peaked in 2011, is levelling off, poaching levels remain alarmingly high and continue to far exceed the natural elephant population growth rates, resulting in a further decline in elephant populations across Africa.

The report also shows a clear increase in the number of large seizures of ivory (shipments over 500 kg) made in 2013, before the ivory left the African continent. For the first time, the number of such seizures made in Africa exceeded those made in Asia. Just three African countries — Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda — accounted for 80% of those seizures. Large-scale ivory seizures are indicative of  transnational organized crime being involved in the illicit ivory trade.

“Africa’s elephants continue to face an immediate threat to their survival from high-levels of poaching for their ivory and with over 20,000 elephants illegally killed last year the situation remains dire. Due to the collective efforts of so many, we also see some encouraging signals, but experience shows that poaching trends can shift dramatically and quickly, especially when transnational organized crime is involved,” said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES. 

Southern Africa continues to hold the lion’s share of Africa’s elephants, holding close to 55% of the known elephants on the continent. Eastern Africa holds 28% and Central Africa 16%. In West Africa, less than 2% of the continent’s known elephants are spread over 13 countries.

Poverty (measured by infant mortality rates) and weak governance (measured by law enforcement capacity and corruption levels), together with demand for illegal ivory in consuming nations are three key factors linked to higher poaching levels.

Overall poaching numbers were lower in 2013 than in 2012 and 2011 – but they continue to exceed 20,000.  The report warns that poaching levels will lead to continuing declines in the African elephant population.

The report identifies monitored sites where poaching is increasing (33% of monitored sites), including Dzanga Sangha (Central African Republic), as well as those sites where a decline in poaching has been observed (46%), such as Zakouma National Park (Chad). Some populations of elephants continue to face an immediate threat of local extinction.

The report containing the latest figures (2013) from the CITES Monitoring Illegal Killing in Elephants (MIKE) programme and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) will be discussed at the 65th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee taking place in Geneva from 7 to 11 July 2014.

The monitoring data from the field is unique and it is the most comprehensive global survey of any of the 35,000 CITES-listed species. It is collected by law enforcement patrols and other means, who try to establish the cause of death and other details, every time a carcass is found. CITES then collates and analyses this data thanks to funds provided by the European Union.

Commenting on the scope of the report, Julian Blanc, responsible for the MIKE programme, said: “We are monitoring 30 to 40% of the elephant population, through a peer reviewed process that gives us the best available global estimates on the illegal killing of elephants. We hope to expand this coverage to improve on our estimates.  We are supporting countries that do not have the capacity or the funds to monitor MIKE sites and are seeking further support for field rangers.”

In March 2013, based on the findings of ETIS, CITES identified eight countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, China, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam) as the most heavily implicated in the illegal ivory trade chain as source, transit or destination countries.  CITES took decisions at that time requesting all eight countries to develop and implement National Ivory Action Plans to tackle the elephant poaching and smuggling crisis.

These decisions are being translated into a wide-range of actions and initiatives – improved protection in the field, stronger Customs controls, better use of modern technologies and forensics – such as DNA testing and isotopes, strengthened legislation and policies, targeted investigations and more prosecutions, new public awareness campaigns, the destruction of confiscated ivory stockpiles, and the allocation of dedicated funding to combat wildlife crime.

“We are seeing better law enforcement and demand-reduction efforts across multiple countries, as well as greater political and public attention to this unfolding crisis and CITES decisions and compliance processes underpin the global effort” said Scanlon.

“The momentum generated over the past three years must now translate into deeper and stronger efforts to fight these crimes on the front line, where it is needed most – from the field, to Customs, to illicit markets, and only then can we hope to reverse the devastating poaching trends of the past decade” added Scanlon.

Several conferences held since CITES Parties met in 2013, including in Gaborone, London and New York, have further contributed to securing high-level political support across all continents. 

The CITES Standing Committee next month will assess the eight countries National Ivory Action Plans, and will discuss the next steps to stop illegal ivory trade, including whether additional countries should develop National Ivory Action Plans. 

The Committee will also consider the roll out of a wide-range of enforcement-related decisions taken by CITES in March 2013 on other species being pressured by illegal trade, including rhinos, Asian big cats, rosewood, pangolins, freshwater turtles and tortoises, great apes, and snakes, as well as a study of the legal and illegal trade in wild cheetahs.

Note to editors: For more information, contact Juan Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or [email protected]

Learn more about CITES by visiting: www.cites.org or connecting to: 



The poaching estimates for 2013 are based upon data collected from 51 sites across Africa through the programme Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) managed by the CITES Secretariat. These sites account for 30-40% of the elephant population. Data received from 39 sites reporting in both 2011 and 2013 show that levels of illegal killing are declining in 18 sites (46%), increasing in 13 sites (33%) and have not changed in 8 sites (21%).  Experience shows that trends and data can change quickly.

It is estimated that in Africa's MIKE sites, 17,000 elephants were illegally killed in 2011; 15,000 in 1012; and 14,000 in 2013. By extrapolating these data at continental level, over 25,000 elephants may have been poached across Africa in 2011; over 22,000 in 2012; and over 20,000 in 2013.

Sites where poaching levels are reported to have decreased substantially include Zakouma National Park (Chad), Nyaminyami district (Zimbabwe) and Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda). Conversely, the greatest increase was recorded in Dzanga Sangha (Central African Republic), which suffered a major poaching episode in 2013.  The overall decline in poaching levels between 2011 and 2013 is statistically significant, with the odds of a real overall decrease in the 39 sites being 108:1.

The overall trend in poaching levels between 2002 and 2013 is shown in the graph below. The graph is based on records of more than 12,000 elephant carcasses encountered in that period, and records the proportion of those that were illegally killed. The horizontal dotted line shows the level above which poaching is likely to result in net population declines.    

The seizure data come from the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), which contains records of more than 18,000 ivory seizures made between 1989 and 2013. Only a fraction of the illegally traded ivory gets seized or confiscated. ETIS is managed by TRAFFIC International on behalf of CITES.

The report to be considered by the CITES Standing Committee in July 2014 compiles data provided by four complementary monitoring systems that assess different aspects of the illegal ivory trade chain—MIKE, ETIS, the African and Asian Elephant Database of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the CITES Trade Database managed by UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

The report also shows data on a growing trend, primarily in China and Hong Kong SAR, for high-end investment in mammoth ivory from Siberia. Sales have increased in direct proportion to the rise in price defying the usual rules of supply and demand. Mammoth ivory import prices also appear to be a better proxy for demand for ivory than household consumption expenditure and have been used as such for the first time in this report.

The report also goes into detail about how the trade routes are changing, with increasing trade through Spain, the Middle East, Turkey, Malaysia and Vietnam to Asia, primarily to China.

The conferences referred to in this press release are:

In May 2014 the UNODC launched a Global platform to combat illegal wildlife trade and the UNDP announced its partnership with the Government of Tanzania to combat illegal wildlife trade; in June 2014 the GEF adopted the GEF-6 biodiversity strategy that responds to the immediate threat posed by poaching and smuggling to the survival of known threatened species in the wild; the UN Environment Assembly will discuss the illegal wildlife trade in June 2014 and the IUCN World Parks Congress will host a World Leaders’ Dialogue on the illegal wildlife trade in November 2014. 
CITES belongs to the first wave of global environmental treaties, being adopted in Washington D.C. in 1973, and it was the first one to have entered into force in July 1975.
With 180 Member States, CITES remains one of the world's most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of international trade in wild fauna and flora.
CITES regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. The CITES permit system seeks to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.
Heads of State and governments at Rio+20, held in June 2012, recognized (in the outcome document, The Future We Want), the important role of CITES as an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment and development.
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