The US elephant ivory market: A new baseline Traffic, IFAW & WWF


Authors: Rachel Kramer, Robin Sawyer, Sal Amato and Peter LaFontaine 

Date Published
A new trade study led by TRAFFIC, with support from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), has established a baseline for the status of the US elephant ivory market around the time that a series of changes to federal regulations were imposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Enacted on the 6th July 2016, these changes enforced a “near-total ban” on imports, exports, and domestic trade of African Elephant ivory.

Download the full report: The US elephant ivory market: A new baselineThe study, published today in The US elephant ivory market: A new baseline, surveyed physical markets and online classified advertisements in six major US cities—Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC—between May and July 2016. Investigators also documented the availability, quantity, and price of elephant ivory offered by US-based sellers on six prominent online commerce platforms between June and August 2016.  

Among the study’s findings, the authors show a marked decline in elephant ivory available for sale in the top-three US markets of a decade ago: New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In a 2006-2007 survey period, Care for the Wild International and Save the Elephants reported 16,758 ivory items in physical retail in the three cities–whereas TRAFFIC documented 489 items in the 2016 survey period. Stricter regulations and enforcement may be responsible for the change. In addition to the federal regulations, New York, California and a number of other states have enacted their own measures restricting intrastate commercial sales of elephant ivory. 

Overall, in the six cities, 1,589 elephant ivory items, among them figurines (780 items), jewelry (417), and household goods (261), were found offered by 227 vendors. Washington, DC topped the list with 658 items for sale from 68 vendors. Online classified advertisements for elephant ivory in the six cities mostly offered antique pianos with ivory keys (205 listings).  

The second major component of the study surveyed six major online platforms—including auction sites and online marketplaces—and found a total of 2,056 elephant ivory items on offer from sellers based in 47 states, the top three being Florida (74 online vendors, 573 items), California (93 online vendors, 173 items) and New York (62 online vendors, 117 items).  

Over the course of this research, information was supplied by TRAFFIC to the authorities regarding possible violations of the law that has resulted in a number of active investigations. 

“Ivory is coming off the shelves in the US, which is a win for elephants,” said Rachel Kramer, Senior Program Officer, TRAFFIC. “But as state and federal law enforcement crack down on illegal sellers, trade is apt to move online and into back rooms. Further investigations will be essential to learn who’s responsible for the trading, where the stocks are, and to deliver future seizures, arrests and prosecutions.”

The US elephant ivory market: A new baseline includes recommendations directed at US law enforcement agencies to improve regulation of the domestic ivory trade, and to US e-commerce companies and other retailers aimed at increasing knowledge and adherence to relevant state and federal legislation.  

“Elephants and other victims of illegal wildlife trade need all the help they can get from the tech sector,” said Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “IFAW has been monitoring online sales of ivory since 2004, and we are glad to see more and more companies implementing policies to reduce illegal trade on the web. This survey shows that there’s still much work to be done, but the groundwork is in place for these efforts to bear fruit.” 

Future monitoring will be essential to determine the full impacts of the recent US legislative and regulatory changes.