Crunching the numbers on Hawaii’s online ivory trade market

IFAW and partners conducted a “snap-shot” investigation in Hawaii of an under-studied—and increasingly prevalent—section of the market: online commerce.Hawaii is certainly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, drawing visitors from across the Pacific region and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this tropical paradise is also a major hub for the ivory trade in the United States.

Over the last decade, independent studies have found large amounts of ivory for sale in Hawaii’s storefronts and marketplaces, ranking it third in sales volume in the U.S. – but with New York (in 2014) and California (in 2015) recently passing laws to ban the trade, Hawaii has likely vaulted to an uncomfortable position at the top of that list.

In order to put some more hard numbers behind this conclusion, IFAW recently partnered with the Humane Society of the United States, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council to conduct a “snap-shot” investigation of an under-studied—and increasingly prevalent—section of the market: online commerce.

The results were eye-opening: In just six days we found more than eighteen hundred advertisements for ivory and related wildlife products, totaling over 4,600 individual items, worth $1.22 million. The vast majority of these products were advertised as elephant ivory (though we also documented parts from whales, hippos, walrus, and other species) and, in general, scant evidence was provided to prove that these tusks and carvings had been imported in accordance with federal law.

READ: An Investigation of Hawaii’s Online Ivory Trade

As we alluded to earlier, Hawaii’s unique geographical position makes it a gateway between the US and Asia, where ivory has significant cultural value. With dozens of flights and hundreds of ships entering its ports and airports daily, Hawaii is in a prominent position as a major Asia-Pacific center of commerce and tourism.

This has a dark side, though, because the seemingly-bottomless demand for ivory in many of these countries (to make decorative items, jewelry and trinkets) is pushing elephants closer to the brink of extinction. Consumer demand for ivory is not only supporting trafficking and poaching, but it is also helping to finance terrorist groups and international criminal networks.

Law enforcement agents in the state have caught some traffickers—like last year’s 21-count federal indictment of a local retailer who was caught smuggling ivory, rare corals, and other wildlife products—but many more are slipping through the cracks.

Much of the illicit trade (in Hawaii and elsewhere, in shops and online) occurs on the so-called “grey market,” with new, illegal ivory being sold out in the open alongside older, legal ivory. Given the lack of adequate documentation from almost all of the online retailers we surveyed for the new report, there is cause for concern that some of their products may come from recently-poached elephants.

The answer to this problem is simple: End the trade of products that no one needs, products that are driving one of the worst conservation crises of our time.

It is now up to Hawaii’s lawmakers and citizens to do their part to protect one of the world’s most iconic animals. A new bill currently being reviewed in the statehouse would restrict the trade in elephant parts and many other threatened species, and IFAW urges legislators to pass this important measure.

We need to ensure that the ivory trade goes extinct, long before elephants do.


If you are a Hawaii resident, take action: Ask your state legislator to support and vote for the bill.

Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime