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12 August 2017


  • On average 55 African elephants are killed each day by poachers as a result of global ivory demand1
  • New research reveals large volumes of ivory sold online in key markets including Japan and China
  • WWF is calling for tough penalties for wildlife trade offences and for the Government to ban the UK legal domestic ivory trade – which three quarters of Brits support2  
  • Today WWF’s UK office is launching a petition calling on the UK Government to help stop the elephant poaching crisis


As key markets, including China and Hong Kong, work towards closing their legal domestic ivory markets and action is taken to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, two new reports reveal that huge quantities of ivory continue to be sold online. On World Elephant Day (Saturday 12 August) WWF is launching a petition calling on the UK Government to help stop the elephant poaching crisis which is estimated to result in an average of 55 African elephants being killed each day by poachers1.


China, the home of the world’s largest legal and illegal elephant ivory market, announced in December 2016 that it will ban domestic trade by the end of 2017. Research released today by TRAFFIC found that though many of the country’s stores have stopped selling ivory, there were 1,687 new ivory advertisements across 31 websites from January to April 2017. On social media 35 targeted users were found to be posting 301 illegal ivory items during a review in April.


A new survey also shows huge volumes of ivory advertised online in Japan, one of the world’s biggest ivory markets. Over a four-week period in May and June of this year, 2,447 ivory items, valued at an estimated US $407,000, were auctioned every week on average on Yahoo Auction. The report also found customer-to-customer trading amongst individuals using smartphones to be on the rise.


In the U.S. - which introduced a near-total ivory ban in July 2016 - six major online platforms were examined, including auction sites and online marketplaces. More than 2,000 elephant ivory items were found to be on sale.


Heather Sohl, WWF chief adviser on wildlife comments:

“We’ve seen promising signs that ivory is coming out of shops in major ivory markets, but we need to ensure that the problem isn’t just being shifted elsewhere. We need to fight the war against poaching on more fronts than ever before, but online markets are a moving target so we need to be extremely vigilant to stamp out illegal ivory sales. E-commerce websites need to understand the threat posed to elephants. Around 20,000 African elephants are killed for their tusks each year. The sad fact is that more elephants are being killed than being born.”


Along with auction and customer-to-customer sites, ivory can be bought and sold via social media and the dark web, making it difficult to monitor and regulate.  To add to the issue, where ivory is banned online, sellers are finding ways round it, such as by listing ivory products as ‘cow bone’ to evade detection.


There is evidence that ivory products in the UK being marketed as legal antique products online, have turned out to be illegal.3  WWF is calling for a ban on the UK domestic elephant ivory trade and in other domestic ivory markets that contribute to the illegal ivory trade. A WWF survey found that three quarters of the British public want the UK Government to ban the ivory trade.2


Heather Sohl comments:  “Closing legal ivory markets is good news because they can facilitate illegal trade, as criminals can launder ivory, for example by passing off new ivory as antique. The UK Government must follow suit by firstly fulfilling the promise it made in September 2016 to hold a public consultation on the UK’s ivory trade.  We need a global effort to put an end to poaching, and it is essential ahead of the 2018 London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade that the UK positions itself as a world leader on this issue.


Along with pressing the UK Government to end the legal domestic ivory trade, WWF is also calling on the Sentencing Council of England and Wales to introduce guidelines for wildlife trade offences to ensure that penalties act as a deterrent. Heather Sohl explained: “In the UK, though wildlife traffickers could face up to 7 years in prison we find that in reality sentencing is lenient and inconsistent. Sentencing guidelines for ivory trade and other wildlife crimes would ensure that offences are treated as the serious crimes that they are, as well as sending a clear message that the UK will not tolerate the illegal wildlife trade.”


Some progress is being made however, with recent developments including Japan’s e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc. banning ivory sales from its online retail site from 1 July 2017. Japan currently regulates ivory trade by commercial businesses but not by individuals except when whole tusks are concerned.




Notes to the editor


1 Based on the recent estimate that around 20,000 elephants are killed by poachers in Africa each year.

2 The survey of 2064 UK adults was conducted by Populus for WWF-UK (July 2017).

3 Evidence of laundering was shown last autumn during the BBC ‘ Saving Africa’s Elephants: Hugh and the Ivory War’ programme, in which 6 of 9 ivory carvings for sale online reporting to be antiques were found to be from elephants which had died after the 1947 cut-off date for antiques.


Today WWF is launching a petition calling on the UK Government to help stop the elephant poaching crisis


TRAFFIC research about online ivory sales in Japan here

TRAFFIC research about China’s ivory market here (on 12 August)

TRAFFIC research about U.S. ivory market here


WWF’s Eyes and Ears initiative encourages the public to report anything they have seen or heard that may be linked to illegal wildlife trade: