Skin and Bones

NOTICE: S&B is taking a break. We will be back with a revamp mid 2019! Unravelling the Illegal and controversial industry that threatens global biodiversity.

How much is a 10 tonne tusker worth? Part 2: Supply

In Part 1 I dove into the ivory market; how much is 'white gold' worth? How have prices fluctuated over the last decade? And who is buying it? However, this is just the end market figures, this bloody trade has a much higher price. Forget the ivory trinkets, this is the real cost of the illegal ivory trade.

Part 2: Supply

Ivory costs lives. 

All across the world there is an ongoing war between dedicated rangers and heavily armed poachers. Enduring similar ordeals to soldiers in combat, rangers routinely face death, injury or torture in the line of duty. It is estimated that globally two rangers are killed a week, in armed conflict over wildlife protection. These are just those that are voluntarily recorded, real figures could easily be double that. 

"It is absolutely a war. We have lost over 1000 rangers that we know of, it's worldwide" - Sean Willmore Founder of The Thin Green Line Foundation and President of the International Rangers Federation. 

President Jacob Zuma, with Retired Major General Jooste, lays a wreath at the Ranger Monument on Anti-Rhino Poaching Awareness Day in Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga. Credit: GovernmentZA 


As one of the most dangerous professions in the world, these men and women (i'm highlighting the famous and fantastic black mamba anti-poaching unit here) are not to be underestimated. Now World Ranger Day is now celebrated on the 31st of July, commemorating rangers killed or injured in the line of duty. 

And regardless of your attitude towards poachers, there are casualties on this side too. Over a five year period 476 poachers from Mozambique lost their lives, gunned down manly in South Africa's Kruger National Park. It can be easy to lump all poachers together as 'the bad guys' considering the majority deliberately go into the bush to hunt wildlife and as we have seen are not opposed to killing rangers who try and stop them. But, the truth is many (not all, but many) of these men have to hunt on the other side of the fence to make a living.  Each individual statistic is a person, with a family. Given that unemployment levels across Central Africa (where elephant poaching has devastated the population) are high, poaching can be an attractive opportunity where a one could earn a years pay in a week.  Unfortunately the death of a bread winner can mean those left behind face appalling poverty. 

The cost of global security. 

The ivory trade does not just cost lives locally where poaching occurs, it costs lives worldwide, by funding terrorist groups. It is not new phenomenon but one that has received much publicity in the last few years (as well as some criticism). A unique joint report by Born Free USA and C4ADS, (a non-profit organisation that conducts data-driven analysis of security and conflict issues) analysed the issue from a national security point of view and found that 'blood money from ivory has helped to bankroll almost every conflict in Africa in recent decades' rocking the stability of African nations.

Poaching across boarders. Credit: New Scientist


  • The terror group Al-Shabaab  gains funding from transporting tusks poached in northern Kenya. 
  • The ivory trade is funding the ongoing civil war in the Central African Republic.
  • Nigeria’s Boko Haram is targeting elephants in Cameroon.
  • And In South East Asia transnational organized criminals 'Xyasarang network' run a lucrative illegal ivory market. 



The cost to local communities. 

Elephants are worth a hell of a lot more alive than dead with their parts sitting on a shelf.  The iworry: Dead or Alive? Valuing an elephant report estimates an elephant contributes $22,966 per year in tourism, a total of $1,607,624.83 over that elephant's lifetime, a huge revenue stream to local economies.

Ok, it is true that not all elephants live in an area open to tourism, and in war torn countries wildlife conservation is not likely be the first thing on the political agenda. But, this information does provide a new argument and incentive to decision makers and local communities (where human wildlife conflict can be high) to protect Africa’s mega fauna.


The cost to the elephants.

Let's not forget, to obtain an ivory tusk an elephant has to die. With the stats showing that four elephants are killed every hour for their tusks the illegal onslaught continues. By the time you finish reading this article another elephant has been poached. 

Ultimately, nothing good comes from robbing the world of an elephant for its tusks. 

Credit:  John Hilliard

Credit: John Hilliard

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