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Still a system of Extinction: CITES ban on Ivory Trade

Recently, India abstains from voting on a resolution that was bought to uplift the ban put by CITES on the ivory trade. This is due to the request from Namibia, a country which helps us to reintroduce


Recently, India abstains from voting on a resolution that was bought to uplift the ban put by CITES on the ivory trade. This is due to the request from Namibia, a country which helps us to reintroduce Cheetahs on our soil nearly after 50 years of their extension from the country. Namibia wants to reverse the ban on the global ivory trade by removing the elephant population of four countries i.e., Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe from CITES Appendix II which was rejected in previous CITES meetings.[1]  The trade of ivory is prevalent in many parts of the country through illegal modes because of which many species especially Asiatic elephants are at the verge of extinction. 

CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species)

It was signed in the years 1973 and was rectified in 1975.[2] CITES governs the Trade related to animals or their products according to 3 annexures where they have provided restrictions on the same. [3]The distinction regarding the same was as follows:

  • Appendix I: This list involves animals who are on the edge of extinction. Their trade is completely forbidden except for medical and scientific use.[4]
  • Appendix II: This list involves endangered animals and their trade is permitted but is highly regulated by the permits issued by CITES.[5]
  • Appendix III: This list includes animals which are protected in at least one of the member countries of the convention.[6]

Ivory Trade, a look into the history

The commercial traffic in the ivory involved the tusks of creatures such as hippopotamuses, mammoths, walruses, and narwhals, but most often African and Asian elephants. The 1970s saw a huge increase in their commerce. Even though the trade was legal at the time, most of it was done illegally. The scale of illegal smuggling is evident from the example of Africa where the population of elephants had fallen to half in a decade itself.[7]

Since the 14th century BCE, ivory tusks of various animals, most commonly elephants have been transported from Africa and Asia to other countries.  Since moving the hefty cargo loaded with ivory was challenging, when the trade of slaves started in the early modern period from Africa to western countries, traders started employing these slaves to transport these cargoes to the ports where they were traded. Articles like sculptures, billiard balls, piano keys, and other extravagant displays of luxury were made with ivory to condemn the class, status and power of the rich in society[8], especially in the early 20th century. During that time, Africa was colonized and around 800 to 1,000 tonnes of ivory were sent from Africa to Europe alone annually.

CITES ban on Ivory Trade

CITES developed a new control method in 1986 that combines CITES paper permits, the documentation of sizable ivory stockpiles, and the monitoring of authorized ivory trade. These rules were supported by the majority of CITES parties, including ivory, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF),[9]all of which are recognized as leaders in the conservation movement related to endangered species being traded.

The Environment Investigation Agency (EIA) revealed through their findings that despite the restrictions put in place, the illegal ivory trade is still conducted on a large scale where syndicates have accumulated enormous wealth.[10] However, it was also found that these poachers had a large number of CITES licenses, which allowed them to continue smuggling ivory even after being detained by customs. The framework created by CITES gave international smugglers the authority to regulate the trade, perpetuate smuggling ivory, and boost the cost of ivory in the market across the globe.

The WWF did not support a moratorium until mid-1989, despite these highly publicized EIA disclosures, which were backed by reportage, petitions from African countries, and several well-known international organizations. [11]The African elephant was ultimately included in CITES’ Appendix I in the year 1989 after much effort and contentious debate, and subsequently, in January 1990, when the decision was put into force, international traffic in ivory was forbidden.

Indian position

Being a party to CITES India holds a firm stand to not support any type of international trade involving ivory through its legislation. In 1986, India amended the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and added a “Chapter VA” to make the trade in ivory from Asian elephants illegal. Animal trophies, objects, and “animal products” originating from animals specified in Schedule I and Part II of Schedule II of the Act are prohibited from being traded or commercially sold under VA.[12] The Act’s Schedule I includes the Asian elephant. Ivory imported into India was not included in this amendment which was later, rectified by another amendment in 1992.

Recent development

India signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Namibia in 2022 on wildlife conservation and sustainable biodiversity utilization” with the objective of restoration of Cheetah in India, and promoting their conservation in both countries.[13] It was the world’s first intercontinental large wild carnivore translocation project.

But recently in COP 19 to CITES in Panama, India abstains from voting on a proposal aiming to lift the ban on the Commercial Trade of Ivory.[14] This response was very surprising because India always had an unequivocal stand on the ivory trade and has always been at the forefront of global elephant conservation. The elephant is one of the most powerful cultural and religious symbols for Indians. India also designed the iconic CITES logo in the form of an elephant during COP 3 to CITES in New Delhi. [15]

Both countries will evaluate their standing in the proposal based on the principle of mutual respect, sovereignty, and equality and in the best interest of both nations.

Ivory Trade in India

Although the trade in ivory has been outlawed in India, recent searches indicate that it may be returning. This revival of the “domestic ivory market” in India has alarmed wildlife crime control organizations and NGOs.  The TRAFFIC report, launched in collaboration with WWF-India and entitled An Assessment of the Domestic Ivory Carving Industry and Trade Controls in India [16]which investigates the ivory trade in 2000 and 2001 and reveals that hundreds of Indian artisans were still carving ivory.[17] The enormous earnings made from ivory, which are often 10 times those for comparable items made from other materials, are significant temptations to continue in business given the demand from both domestic and foreign sources.

The most smuggled items include statues of Hindu deities like Ram-Sita, Radha-Krishnaand Tirupati Balaji, as well as the sculpture of Jesus, Christian crosses, Quran stands, and tusks portraying the Ramayana. Items like jewellery, ivory and wood inlay pieces and miniature Mogul paintings on ivory were also imported into many countries like China, Japan, and many other South-East Asian countries.

The research found that domesticated Asian elephants, smuggled African elephant ivory, pre-ban ivory stockpiles, and locally poached Asian elephants were India’s four primary sources of raw ivory.[18]There isn’t much comprehensive information available on the quantities or locations of India’s pre-ban stock. Without a continuous monitoring method to make sure they are not leaking into the market certain equities continue to be held by dealers. To make improvements, it is now essential to urgently account for these stocks, especially in light of a confirmed rise in worldwide ivory smuggling, the continuation of significant domestic ivory marketing in the country is particularly concerning.


We’ll have to wait and watch how India’s decision to abstain from its vote in CITES would affect the fate of this species in the nation, which is already at the point of extinction. The TRAFFIC urges India to act and take immediate action in order to determine why the ban, forbids any transaction of ivory stocks within the nation which is being violated with apparent ease and regularity. In order to stop the ongoing domestic trade in ivory more stern enforcement of the laws already in place against elephant poaching and the traffic in ivory is required. Additionally, India should not change its stance at the international level related to the ivory trade.

Author(s) Name: Khushi Nigam (Symbiosis Law School, Pune)


[1] Jay Mazoomdar, ‘India’s unusual abstention in CITES vote on reopening ivory trade’ (Indian Express, 23 November 2022) <> accessed 29 December 2022

[2] ‘What is CITES’ (CITES) <>  accessed 29 December 2022

[3] Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species1975, art II, IUCN

[4] Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species 1975, art II, appendix I, IUCN

[5] Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species 1975, art II, appendix II, IUCN

[6] Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species 1975, art II, appendix III, IUCN

[7] Andrew M. Lemieux and & Ronald V. Clarke, ‘The International Sale on Ivory Sales and its Effects on Elephant Poaching in Africa’ (2009) British Journal of Criminology

[8] ‘Ivory: Significance and Protection’ (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, June 2019) <,dangerous%2C%20and%20owning%20ivory%20was%20a%20status%20marker.> accessed 29 December 2022

[9] Allan Thornton and Dave Currey Doubleday, To Save an Elephant (Doomsday Canada 1991)

[10] ‘Elephants’ (Environment Investigation Agency) <,ban%20on%20international%20commercial%20trade%20in%20elephant%20ivory.> Accessed 29 December 2022

[11] Allan Thornton (n 9)

[12] Wildlife Protection Act 1972

[13] ‘India Namibia signed an MoU on wildlife conservation and sustainable biodiversity utilization’ (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, 20 July 2022) <> accessed 29 December 2022

[14] Jay Mazoomdar (n 1)


[16] ‘An Assessment of the Domestic Ivory Carving Industry and Trade Control in India’ (Traffic, February 2003) <> accessed 29 December 2022

[17] ‘Countries vote to maintain international ivory trade ban at CITES conference’ (WWF, 02 October 2016) <> accessed 29 December 2022

[18] ‘Ivory use and trade shifts underground in India’ (WWF, 26 June 2003) <,little%20consolidated%20information%20on%20its%20volume%20or%20locations> accessed 29 December 2022