Effective law enforcement in Ghana reduces elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade

Esmond Martin


Ghanaians have a long history in ivory, both for export and for carving. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, however, most of Ghana’s elephant were killed either by local farmers in retribution for human-elephant conflict or by poachers for the ivory trade. Ghanaian ivory craftsmen used the tusks primarily to make jewellery and figurines over this time. These curios were mostly sold in Accra, the capital, but due to lack of market surveys, very little data are available.

In July 2010 I surveyed the retail outlets selling ivory in Accra and counted only 10 items on display in an art gallery and 85 items brought to me in five of 186 souvenir shops and stalls I visited. The reason there were so few items was that the Ghana Police Service and Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission had carried out a raid in November 2008 in the main curio market confiscating several hundred kilos of ivory items, fining and imprisoning the dealers. Since then the vendors in Accra have feared to sell ivory.

Elephant poaching declined at the start of the 21st century thanks to improved law enforcement. In 2004 a new system was introduced that involves performance and adaptive management through the monitoring of patrol effort and observations by the field-staff in the Wildlife Division. The combined effect of performance and adaptive management was that the number of effective days spent in the field by an average Wildlife Guard doubled, which dramatically lowered the number of elephants killed illegally. In addition, governance improved, Ghanaians developed greater respect for the law and there was less corruption, which reduced elephant poaching and the sale of ivory objects.

This paper concludes that Ghanaian examples of greater patrol staff performance through improved monitoring—and of successfully raiding outlets selling illegal ivory—are a sound approach to reducing elephant poaching. While improving anti-poaching exercises is more difficult in some African range States, the Ghanaian example of shop raids is easier to implement and has also worked in countries such as Cameroon and Ethiopia. Other countries in Africa, especially Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Senegal, need to follow the example of Ghana in carrying out official raids on ivory in retail outlets.


Ghana, ivory trade, elephants, poaching, law enforcement

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