Exotic Wildlife Trafficking Illegal ivory trafficking is an escalating global issue. Elephants and rhinos may soon be driven to extinction by poaching

The Problem

The demand for elephant ivory and rhino horn, driven by China, Japan, the Philippines, the United States and other countries, has created a massive international market that can have detrimental economic, social and environmental effects.

Poaching is now a sophisticated international crime racket and a national security threat. Terrorist organizations such as al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Janjaweed militia in Sudan and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda obtain millions from ivory trafficking and use it to finance their attacks on Americans and others.  Approximately 35,000 elephants are killed annually, close to 100 elephants every day.  At this rate elephants will be extinct in a few decades. 

Photo from USFWS
Photo from USFWS

Fast Facts

Over 100,000 elephants were poached from 2010 to 2012. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 African elephants left in the wild. (National Academy of Sciences)

Rhinos are on the brink of extinction. There are only 28,000 rhinos left globally, and 20,000 of these are the Southern white rhino. There are only 8,000 of the other four species of rhinos combined.

Wildlife poaching is worth $8-10 billion per year, and ranks only behind narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking in international crime activities.

The U.S. is the world’s second largest consumer of ivory behind China. One-third of ivory sold in the U.S. was recently carved, and thus was illegally imported from recently poached elephants. (HSUS)

How We Can Help

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended instituting a near ban on the domestic ivory trade, and placed a moratorium on ivory importation. A host of states that have significant ivory markets or are concerned about the poaching crisis have enacted or are contemplating a ban on the ivory and rhino horn trades in their jurisdictions.

Research Initiates Legislation

Ban Sales of Ivory and Rhino Horn Products

In 2014, New Jersey and New York became the first states to ban sales of ivory and rhino horn products. California and Washington enacted similar laws in 2015, followed by Hawaii and Oregon in 2016.

Progress at State Level

Currently at least 10 states are considering bills to address wildlife trafficking. 

Exceptions to State Bills

Some state bills include exceptions to the ban on the sale of ivory, including antique ivory not less than 100 years old and held by permit and/or inheritance. 

  • Arizona

    • HB 2176 — Ivory or rhinoceros horn permits; definitions


    • HB 16-1341 — Concerning protecting animal species threatened with extinction by prohibiting trafficking 


    • HB 5578 — An act prohibiting the sale and trade of ivory and rhinoceros horn 


    • SB 156 — An act to amend Title 7 of the Delaware Code relating to the import, sale, purchase, trade, barter, or possession of ivory and rhinoceros horn 

    District of Columbia

    • DC B21-251 — Prohibits the import, sale, purchase, barter, or possession with intent to sell ivory and rhinoceros horns in the District.


    • SB 2647 —  Prohibiting wildlife trafficking 
    • HB 2502 — Relating to wildlife trafficking 


    • SB 1858 — Provides that it shall be unlawful for any person to import, sell, offer for sale, purchase, barter, or possess with intent to sell, any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn, or rhinoceros horn product


    • HF 2204 — An Act prohibiting the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn with certain, providing penalties, and including effective date provisions. 
    • SR 101 — Resolution supporting the federal government’s proposed rule changes that would restrict the sale of African ivory across state lines


    • HB 1052 — Ban on ivory and rhino horn sales


    • HB 542 — Prohibiting a person from purchasing, selling, offering for sale, or possessing with the intent to sell specified parts or products of specified animal species
    • SB 991 — For the purpose of prohibiting a person from purchasing, selling, offering for sale, or possessing with the intent to sell certain parts or products of certain animal species


    • H 1275 — Prohibiting the import, sale, purchase, barter, or possession with intent to sell, of any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn, or rhinoceros horn product.

    New Jersey

    • A 4773 — Prohibiting transport or possession of “Big 5” African species through Port Authority

    New York

    • AB 8394 — An act prohibiting the possession and transport of certain animals and
      body parts thereof at airports and port facilities owned or operated
      by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
    • AB 6071 — Relates to musical instruments containing ivory or rhinoceros horn


    • HB 1537 –Prohibiting the import, sale, purchase, barter
      or possession of ivory or rhinoceros horn

    Rhode Island

    • H 7669 — Sale of ivory or rhinoceros horns 


    • H 297 — Prohibit the import, sale, offer for sale, purchase, barter, or possession with intent to sell of
       any ivory, ivory product, rhinoceros horn, or rhinoceros horn product


    • Initiative 1401, funding for — I-1401 passed in Nov. 2015 to restrict endangered species product; 2016 Governor’s Supplemental Budget contains $500,000 for enforcement


    • SB 728 — Relating to the sale and purchase of products containing ivory or rhinoceros horn and providing a criminal penalty

    To download a complete list of bills and their current status as of 3.15.16, click here

Science and Reports

The Illegal Wildlife Trade: Case Study of the UK, Norway, Colombia and Brazil

This report identifies common and different features of the international wildlife trade in these four locations, exploring the various motivations for why people engage in the trade, the nature of the trade and types of victimisation. An overview of the response to the trade is discussed and evaluated through SWOT analysis – identifying strengths and weaknesses, and proposing suggestions for improvements.

Fighting Illicit Wildlife Trafficking: a Consultation with Governments — Dalberg and World Wildlife Fund, 2013

This report summarizes the views of a number of governments and international organizations on illicit wildlife trafficking. It reveals that the current global approach is failing, and that the illegal wildlife trade is worth $19 billion annually.

Wanted Dead or Alive: Exposing Online Wildlife Trade — International Fund for Animal Welfare, 2014

IFAW’s investigation took place simultaneously in 16 countries over a six week period, recording the trade in protected wildlife over online marketplaces – looking at both live wild animals and their derivative parts and products – of CITES Appendix I species. Ivory and suspected ivory posts made up nearly one-third of all traded items found in this study. The investigators also lay out the frequency of endangered wildlife trading and potential solutions for addressing the problem.


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