Today, the ivory trade is at an all-time high since the commercial ivory ban was implemented in 1989. The problem is global in scale, with approximately 229,729 elephants killed and trafficked in the past six years.
But where does all of this ivory come from - and who's buying it? A new report released by Born Free USA tracks just that - ivory's path from the bush in Africa to retail markets thousands of miles away in Asia.
The ivory trade, the biggest driver of elephant poaching, is often thought of as an unorganized, haphazard industry. But the report, titled "Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory," finds that the trade is in fact carefully regimented. It's concentrated within a small number of transactions, through just a few ports and airports, and within a select group of criminal networks.
"In reality, it is a highly organized, complex global crime that has avoided consequence for decades," said Varun Vira, Chief of Analysis at the non-profit C4ADS and co-author of the report. "However, our report reveals that there may be as few as 100 large-scale ivory containers moving annually that drive the vast majority of the entire illegal trade."
Investigators found that three ports export the majority of ivory shipments: Mombasa in Kenya, and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania. The top three airports are Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg. Isolating these hotspots and ramping up enforcement in the area could help officials stem the flow of ivory out of the country.