The illegal wildlife trade
The trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn is part of the global illegal
wildlife trade, worth an estimated US$7 to US$23 billion per year.
This trade is facilitated by the activities of organised crime groups, along
with rebel militia and terrorist organisations that operate through established
The linkages between the illegal wildlife trade and other crime types
are well established. Environmental investigator, Mr Luke Bond, commented that
almost all operational activities in which he has been involved have had links
to other crime types.
IFAW reported organised crime groups direct wildlife crime profits towards
other illicit activities such as human trafficking, drug manufacturing and
The illegal wildlife trade is also complex: the Jane Goodall Association,
referencing research by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),
explained that the market is nuanced, with each commodity having its own market
demand, network and actors involved.
Despite efforts to address wildlife crime globally, the UNODC submitted
that wildlife crime has grown over the last decade into a 'significant and
specialised area of transnational organised crime', driven by high consumer
demand and 'facilitated by generally inadequate law enforcement response, low
prioritisation as a serious crime, weak legislation, and non-commensurate
Further, the illegal trade exists alongside the legal supply chain, enabled by
corrupt officials, fraud and inadequate regulation.
The illegal wildlife trade is a global problem, and a significant threat
to many plant and animal species. Elephant ivory and rhino horn are just two examples
of wildlife that is traded illegally. The global seizure database 'World Wise' reveals
that between 1999 and 2015 there were over 164 000 seizures of wildlife from
120 countries. Of those seizures, there were almost 7000 species seized,
including mammals, reptiles, corals, birds and fish.
In Australia, there are approximately 7000 wildlife items detected by customs
officials each year, along with ongoing reports of wildlife trafficking cases
that implicate Australian nationals.
The illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn
Elephants are hunted primarily for their ivory tusks. Once removed, the
ivory is used in furniture, musical instruments and for ornamental purposes. Some
regard ivory as a highly valued item. In both western and eastern cultures, it
has been seen as a status symbol for wealth and power, particularly in China
where the 'nouveau riche' view ivory as 'white gold'.
Although increasingly becoming a taboo object in western society, it remains
highly sought after in Asia.
The price of raw ivory is variable, depending on demand in the
international market. This demand is largely driven by the Asian market, in
particular, China. In 2011, there were over 11 000 ivory pieces sold in the
Chinese auction market, worth a total of US$94 million, a 170 per cent increase
Since China announced its plan to implement a domestic ban in 2012, the price
of ivory has declined across Asia and resulted in the Chinese people no longer
viewing ivory (and rhino horn) as an inflation-proof investment.
The UNODC reported that the price at one stage reached $1000 per kilo, whereas
latest figures have shown the price has dropped to approximately $600 to $700
Evidence suggests that ivory traffickers are stockpiling ivory for price
The Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE) informed the
committee that raw ivory is primarily trafficked from Africa to Asia (predominantly
destined for South East Asia and China) in large sea cargo shipments (between
500 and 800 kilograms)
by transnational organised crime groups. Approximately 10 per cent of
poached ivory is seized, which according to the DoEE provides 'a good
indication of not only the effectiveness of the enforcement regime around the
world but also where the main routes are'.
The UNODC's 2016 World Wildlife Crime Report demonstrated the
main flows of raw ivory between 2007 and 2014, based on raw ivory seizures. It
identified source, transit and destination of shipments. Australia was recognised
as a jurisdiction with less than 1000 kilograms of seized ivory, whereas China
seized over 41 900 kilograms in total.
Figure 1 shows the international flows of raw ivory from the 2016 UNODC report.
Figure 1: Main flows of raw ivory seizures (kilogram), 2007
According to the UNODC, based on available data, Australia is not a
major transit or destination country, which is a view shared by the DoEE.
There are two species of elephants: the African elephants found across
sub-Sahara Africa; and the Asian elephant found in 13 Asian countries. Both
species have experienced significant population declines since the early 20th
century, primarily due to poaching and habitat decline and degradation.
Elephant numbers in African have rapidly declined over the past century,
with their population once estimated to be five million.
The Great Elephant Census (the Census)
estimated that in 2016 there were 352 271 elephants living across the 18 countries
surveyed. It found African elephant populations have declined by 30 per cent
between 2007 and 2014 (equal to 144 000 elephants), with an estimated decline
of eight per cent each year, chiefly due to poaching.
Approximately 20 000 African elephants are killed each year across the
Figure 2 details surveyed countries and the status of their elephant
populations between 2007 and 2014. It shows that stability of elephant
populations, even in different regions of the same country, vary drastically.
For example, most of Tanzania is witnessing a decline in elephant populations,
whereas the northeast area of the country has seen population increase.
Figure 2: Elephant population trends across Africa over the
past ten years based on Great Elephant Census data and comparable previous
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies
the African elephant as a vulnerable species. This assessment is due to
population numbers varying across the region. In 2007, the IUCN reported that
elephant populations in eastern and southern Africa were increasing by an
average rate of 4 per cent per annum.
Current trends indicate that if poaching is not adequately addressed,
then it is likely that elephant populations will disappear from some countries in
Africa. For example, Tanzania, which once had the second-largest elephant
population, went from 100 000 elephants to 40 000 elephants in a five year
The Asian elephant (also known as the Indian elephant) is listed as
endangered by the IUCN. In 2008, the IUCN reported that its population size had
decreased by 50 per cent over the past 20 to 25 years. In 2016, CITES estimated
that the current population was between 30 000 and 50 000,
with at least 25 per cent of the population now living in captivity.
The Asian elephant has become extinct in West Asia, Java, and a large
proportion of China. Populations remain in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal,
Sri Lanka, Cambodia, China, Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra), Laos,
Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam.
Unlike African elephants, which are hunted primarily for their ivory,
Asian elephants are mostly hunted for their meat and leather.
However, the UNODC reported in recent years there has been a sharp increase in
the killing of Asian elephants with both their skin and ivory removed.
Rhinoceros horn was traditionally used to adorn weaponry, but today it
is primarily sought for its supposedly medicinal properties in traditional
Chinese medicine, and ornamental appeal. Although its medicinal value has been
disproven, and is not endorsed by Chinese medicine advocates,
its value as both a medicine and ornament (as a status symbol) remains.
In 2011, Chinese auction houses sold 2750 pieces of rhino horn carvings worth a
total US$179 million, a 111 per cent increase from 2010. According to IFAW, the
average price for a rhino horn piece during that time was US$177 000.
Although the sale of rhino horn is less common in Australia, records
collated by IFAW revealed rhino horn items being sold for up to AU$207 400 in
and between 2007 and 2017 the average price of 70 listed rhino items sold at
auction was AU$51 736.
There are five species of rhino, two of which are found in Africa and
the remaining three are found in Asia. There are two species of African
rhinoceros, the black rhino and the white rhino. The black rhino is found
throughout the southern and eastern parts of Africa, whilst the white rhino,
which is separated into two subspecies, is located in both the north and south
The white rhino is the most prevalent species of rhino in the world,
with an estimated 19 682 to 21 077 individuals. However, the white rhino is
split into two subspecies: the northern white rhino and the southern white
rhino. The northern white rhino is critically endangered and was declared
extinct in the wild in 2008.
There remain only two female northern white rhinos in captivity after the last
male, named Sudan, died in March 2018.
The southern white rhino is classed as near threatened by the IUCN due
to the ongoing and increasing threat of poaching. The vulnerability status of
individual populations varies depending on protection granted under each
jurisdiction, and the IUCN warns that in the absence of conservation, the
southern white rhino will become a vulnerable species within five years.
According to IFAW, in 2017 there were 1028 rhinos killed for their horns in
South Africa, equating to three per day.
The black rhino population, once regarded one of the most numerous rhino
species in Africa (several hundred thousand across the continent), started to
experience significant population decline in the 19th century. By
1970, the black rhino population had reduced to 65 000 animals. In 1992, its
population further declined by 96 per cent, to approximately 2400 rhinos.
Today, the IUCN classifies the black rhino as critically endangered,
with a population of between 5040 and 5458 rhinos.
Greater one-horned rhinoceros
The greater one-horned rhino or the Indian rhino is found in India and
Nepal and is primarily threatened by human harassment and encroachment on its
habitat. Its population reached a low of 200 in the last century, but through conservation
efforts has increased to 3500 today.
The IUCN lists the greater one-horned rhino as vulnerable due to the
strict protection granted by the Indian government. Populations in Nepal and
north-eastern India are decreasing due to habitat decline.
The Sumatran rhino is found in parts of Southeast Asia, primarily in
Sumatra, Indonesia. According to research, the Sumatran rhino has experienced
ongoing population decline for the last 9000 years and was believed to number
only 800 in 1986. Today it is estimated that there only remains between 30 and 100
surviving in the wild.
The IUCN lists the Sumatran rhino as critically endangered. It
anticipates that its population will continue to decline due to a lack of a
subpopulation exceeding 50 animals needed to sustain population growth.
The Javan rhino is found on the island of Java, Indonesia. It is
incredibly rare, and with a population of less than 67, it is unable to sustain
long-term survival. Poaching and habitat loss, along with inbreeding, are
primary causes of its population decline. Conservation efforts are focused on
re-establishment programs, to rejuvenate threatened populations.
The IUCN classifies the Javan rhino as a critically endangered species,
and similar to the Sumatran rhino, its population is below the required threshold
to facilitate population growth.
International trade regulatory framework
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife
Fauna and Flora (CITES) was agreed on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on
1 July 1975.
Its purpose is to 'ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals
and plants does not threaten their survival',
and protects over 35 000 species of animals and plants.
CITES parties are required to establish a CITES management authority,
which is responsible for the application of CITES in each jurisdiction. A CITES
management authority is empowered to: issue import, export or re-export permits
and certificates of origin that enable a listed specimen to enter or leave the
communicate information to CITES parties and the CITES secretariat; and report
on compliance matters and contribute to CITES annual reports.
CITES parties determine levels of protection granted to each species,
and are allocated to one of three appendices (Articles III, IV, V of CITES)
according to the degree of protection required.
These appendices are outlined in the following sections.
Appendix I includes species that are threatened with extinction, and for
that reason, international trade of these species is only permitted in
A CITES management authority will only issue import/export permits if:
the Appendix I specimen is not used for commercial purposes;
the movement of the species does not have a detrimental effect on
the survival of the species or movement does not pose a 'risk of injury, damage
to health or cruel treatment';
evidence is provided to show the specimen was legally obtained;
and if necessary; and
proof of pre-existing import/export permit from a CITES
Appendix II includes species that are not immediately threatened with
extinction, but their trade is controlled to avoid use that may threaten their
Similar to Appendix I species, certificates from a management authority are
required for the exportation and re-exportation of Appendix II species. The
importer of an Appendix II specimen is required to present either an export
permit or a re-export permit certificate.
Appendix III includes species that any country has identified 'as being
subject to regulation within its jurisdiction for the purpose of preventing or
restricting exploitation, and as needing the co-operation of other Parties in
the control of trade'.
All species of elephants and rhinoceros are CITES listed. Both the
African elephant and the Asian elephant are included in Appendix I, except for
African elephant populations
in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe (Appendix II).All
species of rhinoceros are included in Appendix I, except for the southern white
rhino populations in South Africa and Swaziland, which are included in Appendix
II for purposes of live trade and hunting trophies.
Permits and certificates
Article VI of CITES details the requirements for the import, export and
re-export permits and certificates issued by the CITES management authority.
time restrictions on the validity of a permit (for example, a
period of six months from the date a permit was granted);
measures to prevent the duplication of permits;
a requirement for a separate permit or certificate to be issued
for each consignment of specimens;
obligations on management authorities to retain records of export
and import permits and certificates; and, if appropriate,
an authorisation for management authorities to affix a mark upon
any specimen to assist with its identification.
Exemptions and other special trade
There are a number of exemptions under CITES, including:
The provisions in Articles III, IV and V of CITES (the
appendices) do 'not apply to the transit or transhipment of specimens through
or in the territory of a Party while the specimen remains in Customs control'.
CITES provisions do not apply to a specimen if it was proven to
be acquired prior to that species being listed on CITES (pre-CITES). A CITES
management authority is permitted to issue a pre-CITES certificate that enables
the owner to export or re-export such item.
The CITES appendices to not apply to specimens that are
considered personal or household effects in a limited number of circumstances.
Appendix I species that were bred in captivity for commercial
purposes (including artificially propagated plant species) are deemed to be
species listed as Appendix II.
The export provisions of CITES appendices do not apply if a
management authority is satisfied that an animal specimen was bred in
captivity, is an artificially propagated plant, or part of an animal or plant
bred for commercial use. In these circumstances, a CITES management authority
may provide a certificate 'in lieu of any of the permits or certificates
required under the [CITES] provisions of Article III, IV, or V'.
Provisions of CITES appendices do not apply in the following
a non-commercial loan;
donation or exchange between scientists/scientific institutions
that are registered with a management authority;
herbarium specimens (preserved, dried or embedded museum pieces);
live plant material that has a label issued or approved by a
A management authority may waive the requirements found under the
appendices to permit the movement of specimens travelling for a zoo, circus,
menagerie, plant exhibition or other travelling exhibition.
The application of CITES in Australia
CITES is enforceable under the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), which regulates the import
and export of elephant ivory
and rhino horn to and from Australia.
The DoEE is the assigned management and scientific authority of CITES.
Appendix I specimens can only be imported to or exported from Australia
in exceptional circumstances, or if the specimen has a pre-CITES certificate.
With regard to the importation of pre-CITES specimens into Australia, the DoEE website
...there is no legal requirement to apply for a permit before
importing a specimen that has a pre-CITES certificate from the country of
export. However, [importers] are required to declare the importation, and it is
recommended that you provide a copy of the overseas pre-CITES certificate to
the department. This will ensure that the import is recorded and that the
department has evidence of legal import of your pre-CITES specimen(s) into
Australia. This may be important if you wish to re-export the specimen(s) at a
The DoEE issues pre-CITES certificates in Australia and will do so when
a CITES-listed specimen is exported or re-exported out of Australia. The
exporter must satisfy the DoEE that the specimen is pre-CITES, and can do so by
obtaining provenance documentation, such as:
evidence of proof of acquisition and/or origin of a specimen; or
a valuation certificate provided by an expert in the field or an
antique dealer, which verifies the age of the item.
Australia has implemented stricter measures than those found in CITES.
Specifically, stricter domestic measures exist for African lions, cetaceans,
elephants and rhinoceros.
African elephant populations, which are categorised under Appendix II of CITES,
are included in Appendix I under subsection 303CA(1) of the EPBC Act.
Australia has also introduced measures that restrict the trade of rhino
the discontinuation of permits being issued to importing rhino
hunting trophies of southern white rhino (Appendix II listed);
the ban of rhino hunting trophies being imported as personal and
household effects; and
a requirement that radiocarbon dating is compulsory to prove the
age of vintage rhino horn for export.
For the export or re-export of rhinoceros horn (or products derived from
rhinoceros horn), the exporter must prove the item was obtained before 1975. The
DoEE specifies that satisfaction of this requirement is only met when a
radiocarbon dating result shows the carbon date is pre-1957.
If the result indicates the item was obtained post-1957, the 'margin of error
associated with that result means that there is not a high degree of certainty
that the item was obtained prior to 1975'.
The importation and exportation of newer elephant ivory and rhino horn
is only permitted in a limited number of non-commercial purposes, such as for
research or a museum exhibition.
Tables 1 and 2 show the number of imports of ivory
to Australia by number of items and weight, between 2010 and 2015. Table 1 shows
the total number of ivory items imported into Australia over a five year period
was 6455.5. Of this total, the majority (4077 items) were personal items (3769
were imported with pre-CITES certification), and 2101.5 items were imported for
For the same period, the total weight was 78.805 kilograms, split
between personal (32.905 kilograms) and commercial (45.9 kilograms).
Table 1: Imports of ivory (number of items) to Australia,
Table 2: Imports of ivory (by weight, kilograms) to
Table 3 and 4 show the total number of ivory items (by number of items
and weight) exported from Australia between 2010 and 2015. Table 3 shows that
there were 1978 items exported from Australia over this period, the majority
(1328) were for personal reasons, followed by commercial (435) and exhibition
(215). Forty-eight of these items were not supported by pre-CITES
Table 4 shows ivory exports by weight. The total was 0.751 grams and is
listed entirely as personal items supported by per-CITES certification. Nothing
is listed for exhibition or commercial despite Table 3 indicating that items
Table 3: Exports of ivory (number of items) from Australia,
Table 4: Exports of ivory (be weight, kilograms) from
Table 5 shows the number of rhino horn items imported into Australia
between 2010 and 2015. There were 22 items in total, 14 of which were for
commercial purposes, seven for personal use, and one item was a hunting trophy,
which was not imported with a pre-CITES certificate. Table 6 shows the number
of rhino items exported from Australia between 2010 and 2015. Eleven items were
for personal use, and seven were commercial (total 18). Two commercial items
did not come with pre-CITES certification. No data was provided for the weight
of those items.
Table 5: Imports of rhino horn (by number of items) into
Table 6: Exports of rhino horn (by number of items) into
Enforcement and detection of
elephant ivory and rhino horn at Australia's border
The enforcement of Australia's CITES obligations is the responsibility
of the DoEE and the Australian Border Force (ABF) and, if necessary, the
Australian Federal Police (AFP).
The maximum penalty for a wildlife trade offence under the EPBC Act is 10
years imprisonment and a $210 000 fine for individuals and $1 050 000
fine for corporations. Wildlife items may be seized post-border if authorities
suspect an item has illegally entered Australia.
17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties
South Africa hosted the 17th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties
(CoP17) of the CITES between 24 September and 5 October 2016. During the two
week negotiations, 152 governments agreed to a resolution that:
...recommends that all Parties and non-Parties in whose
jurisdiction where there is a legal domestic market for ivory that is
contributing to poaching or illegal trade, take all necessary legislative,
regulatory and enforcement measures to close their domestic markets for
commercial trade in raw and worked ivory as a matter of priority.
Under the resolution, CITES parties are required to report to the CITES
Secretariat the 'status of the legality of their domestic ivory markets', which
results in that information being reported to the CITES Standing Committee
meetings and at future CoPs.
Although the resolution is not legally binding, it does elevate the issue, 'and
increase pressure on countries that have not closed their [domestic] markets'.
This resolution led to a number of countries announcing and/or
implementing a ban on the domestic trade in elephant ivory. Recent
announcements include: the United States (June 2016);
China (January 2018); Hong Kong (by 2021);
Taiwan (by 2020);
and the United Kingdom (UK).
In late 2017, the European Union embarked on a consultation process about
restrictive measures against the ivory trade. The outcome of this consultation
is yet to be released.
France has had a near-total ban for post-1947 ivory items since 2016, whilst
Canada banned the domestic ivory trade in 1992.
Global support for the implementation of the CoP17 resolution was
further advanced in 2017, with the United Nations General Assembly resolution
(item 27) on Tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife, that called upon:
...Member States to ensure that legal domestic markets for
wildlife products are not used to mask the trade in illegal wildlife products,
and in this regard urges parties to implement the decision adopted at the 17th
meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora recommending that all
Governments close legal domestic ivory markets, as a matter of urgency, if
these markets contribute to poaching or illegal trade.
Australia's domestic trade regulations
The Commonwealth government does not regulate the domestic trade of
wildlife (including ivory and rhino horn); however, it is an offence under
section 303GN of the EPBC Act to be in possession of a wildlife specimen that
has been illegally imported into Australia.
The internal movement of wildlife species is governed by the laws found within
each state and territory.
There is no specific state and territory regulation of the domestic trade in
non-live elephant and rhino specimens.
Further, there is no legal requirement for domestic sellers or
facilitators of ivory and rhino horn to provide evidence at the point of sale
(for example at an auction house) that demonstrates the item is a legal import,
or proves the provenance or age of a specimen. The DoEE may request an owner of
a wildlife specimen to produce evidence of its legal source.
Despite the absence of domestic regulation, the DoEE stated that the
CITES Elephant Trade Information System's 2016 assessment of Australia's
domestic ivory market as 'small and/or well-regulated' and noted 'most seizures
of ivory in Australia is of small, worked items being traded as personal
The DoEE stated that the trading of these items within Australia is legal and
that it is 'legal elsewhere in the world';
because the domestic trade is legal, no Commonwealth, state or territory agency
is responsible for, or required to monitor the elephant and rhino horn trade
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