Essay Writing Samples

The Ivory Trade: Africa’s Tragedy

The trade of illegal ivory has long since been a staple of colonial commerce, and even well before that ivory was highly valued by many civilizations. This sample research paper explains how the trade itself has led to the slaughter of nearly all native elephant populations in Africa, and illegal poaching prevention is a pressing issue for the few remaining elephants.

The Ivory Trade: Africa’s Tragedy

The ivory trade has been in existence for as long as European nations have been conquering other nations. The trade nearly resulted in the extinction of elephants, and other animals who have tusks such as the hippopotamus and the walrus, as they were being killed in large numbers for their tusks. Ivory tusk trading was banned in a response to this near extinction. However the banning of the trade had an adverse effect on the ivory trade. Rather than stopping the ivory trade went underground and created more of a demand for the ivory. The trading of ivory tusks is an issue that needs to still be addressed today as banning the trade has not prevented poachers from targeting elephants. The issues is a relevant one as it has created violence and turmoil in African nations. The trade of the tusks has also caused harm to the global ecological footprint. Addressing the problem of the ivory trade is an issue for the global environment.

Colonial ivory trading

Elephant tusk trading was a cornerstone of African colonial trading between European nations. Africans also used the elephant for their own local purposes.

“Indeed, rural Africans have traditionally hunted elephants and other game. Hides were used for clothes, shields, and containers, and ivory and rhino horn were carved into ornaments and jewelry. European and Arab traders in East Africa purchased ivory and rhino horn for sale abroad” (Kaempfer, 217).

However the increased trade between European nations resulted in the extinction of the African elephant from many parts of the continent. During the colonial period and 19th century, ivory was seen as a luxury item indicating wealth and prosperity. The ivory from Africa was also an exotic item to have for many Europeans who would show off the ivory in their home through decorations or wearing them as jewelry. Although ivory fluctuated in popularity throughout the decades the trade continued well into the 1970s when the declining population of elephants in Africa was discovered (Nichols).

Various African nations along with global environmental organizations, such as the WorldWide Fund for Nature, were able to come together in 1989 to ban the trade of ivory within their nations. The ban was needed to not just address the extinction of a species but also the conflicts that resulted from the trade of ivory.

“The recent civil war (1995-2006) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) resulted in a significant loss of wildlife, including elephants, due to institutional collapse, lawlessness and unbridled exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, wood, ivory and bushmeat” (Beyers, 1).

When a region has a prized resource such as ivory conflict can arise in order to control that commodity. However banning the trade of ivory tusks has created an illegal market that has resulted in increased crime and conflict.

Banning the ivory trade

Banning the trade has also not resulted in an increase of the elephant population in Africa. Some have claimed that the continued loss of the elephant population has resulted from a loss in habit due to urban development. However evidence has been found that the ivory trade continues to thrive.

“But then, following a 1990 ban on the trade of ivory, they began to stage a remarkable comeback, leading many conservationists to believe that the battle had been won. Now, however, it’s the ivory trade that is staging a comeback, and it has wildlife campaigners worried” (Furniss, 2006).

The fact that the trade continues in Africa would indicate that ivory continues to be popular in Africa, however this is not necessarily the case. The presence of China on the global market has resulted in a new player in the ivory trade market. China refuses to ban the trade of ivory and most of the ivory taken from African elephants has been exported to China (Beyers).

Chinese ivory involvement

The presence of China in the ivory trade demonstrates that simply banning ivory trade within Africa is not enough to solve the problem of the decreasing population of elephants and other animals who are being killed for their ivory tusks. In China, items made from ivory and porcelain are always in high demand. Collaboration with other nations all over the world who may engage in the ivory trade is needed so that these nations do not provide a demand for the tusks by purchasing them.

 “It states that an international agreement in 2008 that legalized the sale of ivory has increased the demand for elephant tusks…elephant carcases found in Kenya with their ivory removed increased from 48 in 2007 to 98 in 2008 and commented that legalizing the sale of ivory has brought back smugglers and poachers into the trade” (Zukerman, 4).

These agreements were enacted in order to create compromise for trade with other nations however these compromises have come at the cost of the elephant population. These agreements also force nations such as Kenya to rely on the ivory trade as form of economic growth. While the illegal economy may not be directly contributing to the countries trade it is helping out individuals who may be near poverty. As a global power the United States has a role to play in the negotiations which are need to curb the international exports of the ivory and to pose solutions.

Illegal elephant poaching and the ivory trade

The laws surrounding ivory trade appear to be strict and specific enough to be able to control the trade. The strict enforcement of the laws is what policymakers had intended however this is not what is occurring in the slaughter and trade of elephant ivory.

“To be fully compliant with the laws and regulations on elephant ivory, it is important to have documentation providing dates of ownership and provenance. Only ivory artifacts that are older than 100 years, were acquired before 1977 and have documentation to prove it, may travel legally over international borders” (Smithsonian, 1989).

While many different African nations have their own laws on the ivory trade that can at times be conflicting the strictest law should take precedence so that poachers receive the harshest punishment. However the continued presence and activity of the ivory trade demonstrates that the trade is continuing either because the penalties are not harsh enough or they are not being enforced. Regardless of the cause the reality of the laws not being enforced demonstrates that the policymakers need to make adjustments from the top levels in order to make a change at the lowest levels of enforcement.

Curbing the demand for ivory

Within the African nation stricter enforcement of the ivory trade laws are needed to curb the trade. This can be difficult as poverty is rampant in Africa, and many individuals make a livelihood from the trade. These individuals may have very little other options to make a living for their family. Tarshis, (1990), found that corruption within law enforcement in rural African communities has resulted in little to none enforcement of the laws banning the trade of ivory.

The law enforcement officials who are taking the money to stay quiet about the activity of illegal poachers also have to make a livelihood which takes the problem of the ivory trade to a larger level of combatting the issues of poverty. Tarshis suggested that since these issues need to be addressed on a larger scale individuals can play their own part in decreasing the trade of ivory. By refusing to purchase the prized possession regardless of where it has come from Tarshis would hope to place a dent in the trade. These approaches have been used in addressing issues of slave labor where individuals are encouraged to only buy products which are created by free trade and labor however the effectiveness of these approaches to combat the problem have come into question as large scale solutions are needed.

Poverty’s relationship to the ivory trade

Poverty cannot be cured around the world and these smaller steps cannot be fully expected to be taken to combat the ivory trade problem. However through the use of scientific research DNA has been demonstrated to be effective in  tracking the poaching of the elephants.

“We contend that the most effective way to contain this illegal trade is to determine where the wildlife is being removed. This allows authorities to direct law enforcement to poaching hot spots, potentially stops trade before the wildlife is actually killed…” (Wasser, 2008, 1065)

This approach would also be effective in tracking exactly how many elephants are being killed for their ivory. This data would be beneficial in providing evidence for the international organizations that would be working towards solving the problem of ivory trading. Wasser demonstrated how these nations would be unable to claim that the ivory trade was occurring within their country if the evidence demonstrated that the numbers of poaching continued to be high.

The issue of killing elephants for their tusks is one in a series of many which works towards changing the ecological footprint human beings are leaving on the world. As stated earlier the United States has a role as not only an economic superpower but as a global leader to address the environmental issues that are affecting the world, including poverty and educating communites on sensetive issues. Lewis, nd, discusses the role the United States can play in achieving environmental sustainability across the world. This sustainability needs to begin by addressing the smaller issues of ivory trading which can have drastic impacts on the global ecology. Abolishing the trade of elephant tusks is one small factor through which environmental  can be attained and it is an important starting point for the crusade.


The elephant trade has been considered an issue which is no longer relevant as the trade has been banned. The issue is also seen as no longer relevant to the United States. However the ivory trade is a practice which is still rampant. The trade has now expanded from Africa to China which indicates that the trade will continue. The role of the United States as a global power is a reason why the issue is one which the country needs to be concerned about and working to address. Through ignoring the issue it will eventually become worse. By taking the approaches discussed earlier the United States can collaborate with other nations to be proactive rather than reactive.

Works Cited

Beyers R, Hart J, Sinclair A, Grossman F, Klinkenberg B, Dino S. Resource Wars and Conflict

Ivory: The Impact of Civil Conflict on Elephants in the Democratic Republic of Congo- The Case of the Okapi Reserve. PLOS One. November 2011l 6 (11): 1-13.

Furniss C. On the Tusks of a Dilemma. Geographical (Geographical Magazine Ltd.) [serial online]. November 2006; 78: 47-57.

Kaempfer W, Lowenberg A. The Ivory Bandwagon. Independent Review [serial online]. 1999; 4 (2): 217

Lewis, C. Global Human Ecology.. University of Colorado at Boulder. Retrieved from on May 7, 2013.

Nichols, Michael. Photo. The Habit Advocate. Retrieved from:

Tarshis L. A race against extinction. (Cover story). Scholastic Update [serial online]. March 23, 1990: 122 (14):22.

Smithsonian horizons. Smithsonian [serial online]. March 1989; 19 (12): 14. Available from:

Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 8, 2013.

Wasser S, Joseph Clark W, Stephens M, et al.  Conservation Biology {serial online]. August 2008: 22 (4): 1065-1071.

Zukerman, Wendy. New Demand for Ivory Alarms Kenya. New Scientist.  2011. 211 (2829). 4-5

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