New report links auction industry to the elephant poaching crisis

Tuesday, 12 August, 2014
Washington, D.C.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW today – World Elephant Day – published a new investigative report finding that the auction industry does not have the safeguards in place to protect elephants. Although many in the industry claim not to be part of the problem driving the elephant poaching crisis, investigators found almost no data that would support this assertion.

The report, Bidding Against Survival: The Elephant Poaching Crisis and the Role of Auctions in the U.S. Ivory Market, shows that only 1 of the 351 auctions investigated provided any documentation to authenticate the provenance, age, or legality of the ivory offered for sale.

“Until this year, auction houses and other sellers have not been required to certify the ivory being sold,” said IFAW Campaigns Officer, Peter LaFontaine. “And although the vast majority of retailers may not intentionally traffic in poached ivory, there is no way to know if an ivory carving on the auction block is antique or chiselled from the tusk of an elephant recently killed by poachers.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data indicate that individuals and businesses in the United States import and export a significant amount of legal and illegal ivory.  The legal ivory market provides a screen under which a parallel illegal trade can thrive.

“We know from U.S. government reports that thousands of illegal pieces of ivory are smuggled into the United States every year; and we also know that auction houses are selling huge amounts of ivory without documentation,” added LaFontaine. “It would be naive not to consider that some of the smuggled contraband ends up on the auction block.”

IFAW’s three-month investigation into the auction industry focused on both live (in-person) and online auctions, yielding data from 14 live auctions and/or auction previews, and from 340 online auctions hosted by 223 auctioneers and galleries. 

The U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service began drafting new regulations in February which, if finalized and implemented as proposed, would require ivory sellers to prove their wares are bona fide antiques, therefore reducing the number of elephants poached today for US buyers.

“Among the many dealers and auction sites investigated, only one made the effort to verify that its ivory was antique,” said IFAW Campaigns Director, Beth Allgood. “Traffickers are known to smuggle large quantities of illegal ivory into the United States every year, and we welcome strong rules proposed by the Fish & Wildlife Service to stop the US role in the elephant poaching crisis and save elephants from slaughter.” 

Bidding Against Survival is the only current report on the US ivory market that covers the auction sector.

To view and download a full copy of Bidding Against Survival: The Elephant Poaching Crisis And The Role Of Auctions In The U.S. Ivory Market, please visit

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