• The EPI Foundation

It’s Time to Move Beyond Ivory


Photo credit: Martin Middlebrook

The Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPIF) believes that a resumption of legal international trade in elephant ivory, as recently advocated by some Southern African countries, will be damaging to elephant conservation and will not resolve the many challenges faced by elephant range states. The EPIF encourages countries and stakeholders to look beyond ivory to address these challenges.


The majority of countries which are signatories to CITES, including a majority of African elephant range states, are justifiably worried that any resumption in the legal trade of ivory will provide cover for the illegal trade. Past experience shows these fears are well founded. African elephants are still threatened by transnational, organised poaching for their ivory. To reopen the ivory trade now means incurring the risk of another surge of poaching, similar to that which caused devastation between 2008-2014, thereby unravelling the conservation successes of the past decade.


In recent years, key destination countries, including China, the members of the EU, the UK and the USA, have closed their domestic ivory markets. The closure of these markets, and the crackdown on enforcement, led to a substantial fall in the price of ivory. As such, the stockpiles of ivory held by African range states are likely to be considerably less valuable than has been suggested by countries who wish to sell them, assuming a market for such ivory exists.


The EPIF recognises the challenges faced by African range states, including those that attended the Zimbabwe summit, several of which have large elephant populations and have been successful at conserving their elephants. Across Africa we see an increase in human-elephant conflict, as growing human populations compete with elephants for land, water and other resources. The EPIF is advocating that this issue receives greater attention from the international community and has suggested changes accordingly to the UN’s CBD Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which is currently under negotiation.


We also need to consider the role elephants play in healthy ecosystems and in mitigating climate change. Recent research has highlighted the economic value of the carbon benefits provided by African elephants. For example, Dr Ralph Chami of the IMF estimates that each forest elephant is worth $1.75 million across its lifetime. Dr Chami spoke at the EPIF special event on forest elephants in January 2022.


We therefore need to move beyond a trade or no trade debate, to a more holistic approach to elephant conservation, that ensures the harmonious coexistence of elephants and people. The countries which attended the Zimbabwe elephant summit called for long-term funding of elephant conservation from a variety of sources. We agree that the international community has a responsibility to support African elephant range states. The loss of tourism revenues caused by the covid pandemic has made this responsibility all the more urgent.


Ivory storeroom in Ethiopia.

The EPIF believes there is an opportunity to tap into the financial resources that are now flowing to address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, so that countries with large elephant populations, and indeed all range states, can access the resources they need to manage these magnificent animals. We will work with our member states and partners to achieve this objective.


The EPIF is also working with 15 states to inventory and manage their stockpiles of ivory and other wildlife products, and is expanding this work programme to offer the same support to other states, upon request.


The EPIF is the secretariat of the Elephant Protection Initiative, an alliance of 21 African countries with common policies on elephant conservation. In 2020 the EPI unveiled a new strategic vision, which emphasised the need to find ways of mitigating and preventing human-elephant conflict, in recognition of the changing threats to Africa’s elephants, and in 2021 released its HEC Strategy 2030. See also the EPI Foundation's CEO, John Scanlon's interview with TRT World here.