No More Ivory Trade

Destroying ivory seized from illegal traders.
Gavin Shire / USFWS, via Flickr

Have you seen ivory art and objects? Would you ever buy something made from ivory? Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma look at the dangerous and harmful global trade in ivory from elephants.


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geerstma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

July 19, 1989. Kenya’s President, Daniel Arap Moi, stands before a large pile of elephant tusks. Large gray elephants are common in Kenya. The large white tusks grow from an elephant’s mouth. They are very valuable. Poachers have killed the elephants illegally. Then they have cut the white ivory tusks from the dead elephants. The pile is 20 feet high. The ivory here is worth thousands of dollars. And it is covered in gasoline. President Moi lights the pile of elephant tusk ivory on fire. The flames burn up the ivory, turning it into black ashes. President Moi tells the crowd of people.

Voice 3 

“To stop the poacher from killing elephants, the trader must also be stopped. And to stop the trader, the final buyer must be persuaded not to buy ivory. I appeal to people all over the world to stop buying ivory.”

Voice 2 

Other governments and organizations have continued working to stop the ivory trade. They still destroy piles of valuable ivory. However, over 25 years later, the ivory trade continues to harm elephants and people. Is there any way to stop it? Today’s Spotlight is on the ivory trade.

Voice 1 

The ivory trade begins with elephants. Elephants live in parts of Africa and Asia. They are gray, and have very large ears. These huge animals can weigh up to 6,800 kilograms. And they can live to be 70 years old. Many people believe that elephants are beautiful, majestic and intelligent animals.

Voice 2 

Many people also know the elephant because of a kind of tooth - or tusk - that grows near its long nose. Two of the elephant’s teeth grow very long. The elephant uses these tusks as tools to move objects or to dig. People call these tusks ivory. Ivory is so valuable that people will kill elephants to take these large tusks.

Voice 1 

The World Wildlife Fund works to protect animals around the world. They say that in the 1930s and 40s there were a few million elephants. But today, the elephant population is much smaller. There are only about 500,000 elephants left.

Voice 2 

The biggest danger for elephants is poachers. Poachers hunt and kill elephants illegally. They only take the tusks of the elephant. They leave the rest of the elephant to decay. Killing elephants is illegal. But poachers do it because they can earn a lot of money from selling the ivory. They can sell one elephant tusk for 10,000 dollars.

Voice 1 

Traders buy the ivory from the poachers. They may trade it to other groups for weapons or money. Then, people carve the tusks into other products. For example, a carver could make the ivory into a bracelet. A person could wear the bracelet on her arm. Someone will pay for the ivory because they think it is beautiful and valuable. Some people buy ivory products when they travel. The ivory product is a way to remember their trip. Some people even believe ivory has medical or magic powers. This is how the ivory trade works: from poachers to traders to people who buy it.

Voice 2 

But experts fear that the ivory trade will cause the extinction of all elephants. They fear that all elephants will be killed. So how do people stop the ivory trade? One way is to make punishments for poachers very severe. Today, if poachers are caught, they may only go to prison for a short time. Or they may only have to pay a small fine. Governments do work to punish poachers. But often, the punishments are not enough to stop poachers.

Voice 1 

Another way to stop the ivory trade is to make ivory worthless. Some experts suggest destroying the ivory. In June of 2013, that is what the Philippines did. They destroyed five tons of this material. They kept 106 pieces. Some went back to Kenya, where the ivory had come from. And the Philippines saved some to use for training and education purposes. Mundita Lim is the director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. She told National Geographic magazine:

Voice 4 

“The destruction of these things would hopefully bring the Philippines’ message across the world. This country is serious and will not accept illegal wildlife trade. This country will not accept the continuous killing of elephants for ivory trade.”

Voice 2 

Other countries hope to spread the same message. They will not support the ivory trade. They have also destroyed their ivory collections, or are planning to destroy them. But is this the best way? Some experts disagree. That is because some ivory pieces have important historical meaning.

Voice 1 

In 2014 Britain held a conference where people discussed illegal wildlife trade. The UK’s Independent newspaper reported that at this conference Prince William said he wanted to destroy all of the ivory in the UK’s royal collection. This includes more than 1,200 pieces. The collection includes old paintings, carvings, and gifts from other countries to the UK. David Harper is an expert in art and old valuables. He told The Daily Mail Newspaper:

Voice 5 

“This is insane. The very idea of destroying beautiful and valuable art work to send a message is insane. It will only put more elephants’ lives at risk. It will actually put up the price of tusks. People’s desire for ivory would only increase and it would be a great day for traders.”

Voice 2 

Harper suggested giving the ivory collection to countries where ivory is in great demand. Then, since there would be so much of it, it would be less valuable. Or, the UK could sell the ivory pieces. The money they earn from the sales would go toward organizations that protect elephants.

Voice 1 

So what is the right way to stop the ivory trade? The problem is complex. William Hague led the UK conference. He told the UK’s Mirror Newspaper that he will not stop fighting the ivory trade. He said:

Voice 6 

“We know that the trade feeds corruption and organized crime. It makes an area less secure. I know that the challenge we face is big. I know that the threat is highly organized and shows no mercy. But it can be defeated. We can reverse the decline in species. I am determined to do that before it is too late.”

Voice 1 

Governments are working to stop the ivory trade. But people all around the world can help. The first and most important thing people can do is to stop buying any form of ivory. When you travel, do not buy any products that use any parts of wild animals. Encourage your friends and family to do the same. Second, you can give money to a trusted organization that protects elephants. We can all work to stop the ivory trade and to save elephants.

Voice 2 

The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘No More Ivory Trade’.

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Is ivory popular in your country? What is your government doing about it?


Avatar Spotlight
Mss Flamboyant
said on September 02, 2014

well to be quite honest, in general I would say that I am actually quite keen on animals, but in particular I would probably have to say that I am really into elephant. I guess the reason why I am a big fan of elephant is because they are intelligent, sensitive and royal. In addition, wildlife trade is illegal which affecting ecosystem. The best solution for this case is that Government and wildlife protect organizations should train and educate the importance of wildlife animals. Besides, punishment is raised, not only does pay a big fine but also they have to go to prison for a long time.

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 03, 2014

Decreasing the elephant population represents the sad reality. These amazing, wise, sensitive animals are being killed systematically by poachers for ivory tusks and that is why elephants soon may become extinct totally. All wild animals should be protected because they create an irreplaceable part of natural environment. I suppose, first of all the punishment for poaching should be determined more severe, besides, the countries around the world should stop supporting the illegal ivory trade but destroying valuable ivory collections probably is not the best solution. All of us can help taking decision not to buy any objects that use any parts of wild animals, moreover, we also can give money to organizations, that protect elephants. Shortly, there certainly exist the various possibilities.
Thanks for program!

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 27, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Tuesday 27, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!

No, It is not. The Government’s Brazil does not permit to enter in our country these kind of products because here there is an organization and The Forestal Police to protect the animals and the environment.
However, this type of corruption in my country there is not.
Therefore, at the all airports of the Brazil there are many Galleries in which there are many gifts and souvenirs from itself region to the passengers buiying one of them or more to remember their trip of the our country.

The best regards,
Severino Ramos