New report reveals scale of ivory seizures across Europe

IFAW report on European ivory seizures

A new IFAW report looking at the illegal ivory trade across Europe in the past ten years has found that the European Union is still a destination for illegal ivory, a major transit route between countries (especially between Africa and South-East Asia), and also a key exporter of antique ivory to South-East Asian markets.

Looking at the report as a whole, we can see that the research shows that significant ivory seizures are still being made across the EU and that a number of member states are important transit routes for the international trade. The report highlighted a case study of a manufacturing centre found only last year in Germany, after a seizure of 625 kilograms of ivory was made by enforcement officers at an airport. The ivory was found in boxes destined for Vietnam with false paperwork that led officers back to another address in Germany. Officers found an additional 570 kilograms of ivory at an ivory carving factory in addition to grinding and cutting machines. This showed for the first time that Europe was carving and manufacturing ivory to be exported to South East Asia.

The false certification in a number of the examples also highlights organised criminal activity and smuggling from Europe to South-East Asian markets, which shows that Europe is still playing a role in the illegal ivory trade. This report comes only few months after the launch of IFAW’s Campaign aimed at closing all European domestic ivory markets and strengthens our ask to the European Union including the UK.

As we all know, trying to measure any illegal market is almost impossible and when looking at ivory seizure data we have to acknowledge that this is probably just the tip of the iceberg and more ivory is being transited through Europe than has been publicly reported. Experts estimate that seized items represent only 10 percent of the total amount of illegally traded items.

The new IFAW report provides a snapshot of the current situation within major European Member States. It is clear from the evidence collected that a number of European countries do contribute significantly to the illegal ivory market, directly or indirectly. When enforcement agencies have co-ordinated operations, the results have been impactful, and this is a real testament to the expertise and knowledge of the agencies involved.


In other cases, some European countries showed no seizures of ivory or staggeringly small numbers of ivory seizures. We were unsure if this was because there were no ivory seizures made or if wildlife enforcement is not a priority for these countries.

The findings of the report also note potential for the European legal antique ivory trade to contribute to demand in Asia. Supplying antique ivory to these high demand countries could be helping ensure demand for ivory remains high. It could also unwittingly provide cover for new recently poached ivory to be brought in to these markets. The findings suggest that the legal ivory trade does play a role in supporting the modern poaching of African elephants and the two cannot be separated.

The big question has always been - is Europe contributing to the poaching of elephants in Africa? We regularly hear this from politicians and antiques dealers, along with the claim that selling antique ivory is not to blame for the demise of elephants in today’s world. Claims that the EU has a very minor role in all of this are often held up. This report has made inroads into disputing these claims by illustrating seizures in domestic markets of both raw and also worked ivory, processing plants and transit routes that all exist within Europe.

It is clear that Europe does play a role in the illegal ivory chain and clearly a total ivory ban across the whole of Europe now needs to be considered urgently if we are to close these markets and save elephants in the wild. In the following weeks the European Commission will launch a public consultation asking EU citizens and stakeholders whether changes following the guidance released in May 2017 to stop issuing export documents for raw ivory should be followed by a ban on worked ivory too. We will be advocating for stronger measures which regulate both raw and worked ivory.

The recent UN resolution on tackling illicit wildlife trafficking urging parties to implement the CITES resolution as amended at CoP17 recommends that all governments close legal domestic ivory markets as a matter of urgency if they contribute to poaching or illegal trade. The European Union cannot lag behind.


Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy