The complex policy issue of elephant ivory stockpile management

Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, Brendan Moyle, Daniel Stiles


Recent elephant poaching levels are a serious concern for conservationists. Opinions differ over how to deal with the upsurge and associated illegal ivory trade. Following the CITES-imposed international trade ban in 1989, limited legal trade has been permitted in two one-off sales. Opinions are divided on what effect this has had on poaching. Opinions are now also divided over whether trade in ivory products should be outlawed worldwide, both between and within countries. In the midst of this debate is the question of what ¬¬government agencies should do with existing stockpiles of collected legal and confiscated illegal ivory. Governments of some countries have destroyed their stockpiles with the claimed intention of reducing poaching, and there are calls for others to follow suit. We review the academic literature and find that, under current circumstances, stockpile destruction violates the precautionary principle and is therefore not recommended. Credible evidence suggests that speculation may drive the increase in poaching rather than consumer demand for carvings. Legal stockpiles provide an option to curtail speculative behavior of criminals. We recommend that governments move closer toward consensus on a long-term vision for elephant and ivory management before undertaking measures such as stockpile destruction. In the meantime they should continue to retain existing ivory stockpiles securely to reduce incentives for criminal speculation on illegally accumulated stockpiles.


Elephant; ivory; poaching; seizure; stockpile; speculation

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