Half of Tanzania’s elephants have been killed for their ivory since 2007. A similar alarming story can be told of the herds in northern Mozambique and across swathes of central Africa, with forest elephants losing almost two-thirds of their numbers to the tusk trade. The huge rise in poaching and ivory smuggling in the new millennium has destroyed the hope that the 1989 ivory trade ban had capped poaching and would lead to a long-term fall in demand. But why the new upsurge? The answer is not simple.
Since ancient times, large-scale killing of elephants for their tusks has been driven by demand outside Africa’s elephant ranges – from the Egyptian pharaohs through Imperial Rome and industrialising Europe and North America to the new wealthy business class of China. And, who poaches and why do they do it? In recent years lurid press reports have blamed mass poaching on rebel movements and armed militias, especially Somalia’s Al Shabaab, tying two together two evils – poaching and terrorism. But does this account stand up to scrutiny? This new and ground-breaking examination of the history and politics of ivory in Africa forensically examines why poaching happens in Africa and why it is corruption, crime and politics, rather than insurgency, that we should worry about.