Herd of wild elephants

Illegal trade seizures: Elephant ivory in Europe

Africa’s elephants are still enduring a poaching crisis, fuelled by demand for ivory in Asia, primarily China and Vietnam.

At the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Conference of the Parties in 2016, world governments, with the support of EU Member States, adopted a resolution recommending countries close their domestic ivory markets. Already leading the way are the US and China; the former has adopted a near-total domestic ivory ban and China, the world’s largest ivory market, closed its market in 2018. The UK followed suit at the end of 2018 with a near-total ban on ivory trade in the country. A European Commission guidance document recommending a ban on re-export of raw ivory is welcome progress but does not go far enough. The EU must also prohibit all re-exports of worked ivory and take steps to close domestic ivory markets. In September 2017, the Commission launched a consultation to gather information and views regarding the closure of the domestic ivory trade within the EU and ivory trade from and to the EU. We have submitted comments. The majority of the legal ivory exports from the EU are to China and Hong Kong, where significant levels of illegal ivory trade persist.

Methodology of collecting data

Data has been collected using a number of published sources, including enforcement agency press releases and other government publications, NGO and media reports. While extensive, the data likely reflects only a small proportion of the actual illegal ivory trade conducted during the period. We welcome updates, comments and clarifications. For mapping purposes, we used 0.01kg to represent the 143 ivory seizures within EU with unknown weights. A variation of +1.43kg will be observed in the map data in comparison to the data observed the attached data sheet.

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Key takeaways

  • Since 2000, seizures of ivory attributed to the EU but seized outside of Europe have totalled 6,490.02kg – likely a fraction of the actual level of illegal ivory linked to Europe.
  • Vietnam has emerged in recent years as a prominent destination for ivory transiting in the EU; seven consignments have been seized in Vietnam since 2011, six of them linked to France.
  • Two large consignments of illegal ivory seized within Germany were linked to Vietnam.
  • China still stand outs as a key destination for ivory from the EU. China has made several seizures of ivory coming from Belgium, France, the UK, Italy, Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands. A third of these seizures are related to postal consignments.
  • A large-scale seizure intended for China occurred in Malaysia in 2012 – the 6,034.3kg of ivory was transhipped via Togo and Spain undetected prior to reaching Malaysia.
  • We identified over 250 seizures of more than 12 tonnes of ivory in 16 European countries between January 2000 and October 2017, representing ivory sourced from approximately 1,800 elephants. · Legal re-exports from the EU between 2003-14 totalled 2.8 tonnes of pre-convention raw ivory, nearly all since 2007, and 4.1 tonnes of worked ivory, 87 per cent of which occurred between 2011-14.
  • 2016 saw the highest volume of seizures by weight, with over three tonnes recorded.
  • The top four countries that have seized the largest amount of ivory in the EU are Spain, UK, France and Germany; all four have seized over one tonne and together account for nearly three-quarters of the total EU volume.
  • The sheer volume of seizures occurring within Europe highlights the significant role the EU plays in the global ivory trade.

Contact us

If you wish to utilise our illegal trade seizure maps and need access to the raw data or have information you wish to submit, please contact us.