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Animal Poaching and Illegal Ivory Trade

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Today’s society is a complex system where no individual is the same due to the differences in ideals on various aspects in life. Wildlife must unfortunately put up with humans and their inability to realize that their lives are just as important as theirs. Elephants are no exception, and they have been known to be killed for their precious ivory tusks. Ivory is exceedingly sought out for by many and there are those who are willing to do whatever it takes to supply the demand for it. Various stake holders take part in the continuing conflicts of the illegal ivory market and its important to realize that humans commit their actions based on their ethical perspectives of the situation.

Poachers and the dealers work hand in hand when it comes to the flow of ivory in the illicit market that is ever growing. Our society is often baffled by what they’re able to do without any remorse for the animals that are slaughtered and would want to know why they do such actions. Poachers may very well behave as ethical egoists due to their desire of income for their own benefits. Ivory and other animal horns contribute to an illegal industry that yields around 19 billion dollars a year, and this money is known to fund terrorist groups (Wong, 2014). Poachers are able to make the decision to slaughter elephants for their own gain because of how it will benefit them in the grand scheme of it all. Ivory provides enough income for poachers and the extremists they’re affiliated with to operate and have a sense of power in their country. The individuals who deal and trade ivory are no better than the poachers; however, they can be seen as people who follow under the ethics of virtue. People who follow this path often commit actions a virtuous individual would do. This is confusing because it’s hard to believe selling ivory is something a virtuous individual would do. However, one must realize that not every culture is the same and that virtues vary from country to country. From our cultural point of view, it is frowned upon, but in other countries it is socially approved to sell ivory due to the culture that has been cultivated in their society. This situation seems to be somewhat unorthodox but it’s an occurrence known to be called cultural relativism. The principle of cultural relativism allows a culture to deem aspects in life to be morally correct or not (Shafer-Landau, 2018). It is important to realize that its healthy to have diverse cultures to expand the identity of different civilizations; however, there is a fine line that should be made when it comes to dilemmas that affect humanity as a whole. This idea pans out to the other contributors of the ivory trade, and they are known as the buyers of ivory.

The entire reason for why ivory is so sought out after is due to its history on providing religious and social status purposes. The main contributors reside in Asia and their whole notion on why ivory is acceptable is due to their ancestry and what they believed in the past. According to John Heminway’s documentary Battle for the Elephants, people in Asia have a desire to stick to their roots to be able to have a sense of connection to their ancestry with core values (Heminway, 2013). The culture that exist in Asia is heavily involved with religion and previous ancestry predates the importance of ivory meaning. Individuals that rely on their spiritual beliefs are ones who execute actions based off the divine command theory. Religions like Buddhism and Confucianism have a heavy influence for the use of ivory to portray their gods in a way to honor them and will in return be rewarded with a life of happiness. The use of ivory is allowed for this culture due to their religious ancestors morally justifying the use of it for worshiping their Gods the way they would want to be worshiped. Ivory became very popular after the Ming dynasty and it is still evident that China remains the largest consumer of legal and illegal ivory usage (Smith, 2018). Cultural relativism is very much relevant in this predicament because people carve ivory tusks due to their culture socially approving it. There are people who have been carving ivory for numerous generations, and current generations keep the tradition going due to many other individuals following the same practices.

Many countries have their fair share of dilemmas in their systems to where the government must make decisions that have the best interest for their citizens and Africa is no exception. Africa is known for its lack of funds to help improve their society as a whole; however, ivory can very well help aid a stable flow of income. It has been stated that in 1989 there were well known international conservation organizations that had successfully created a ban on ivory and helped elephant populations rebound in numbers; however, Sub-Saharan African nations had argued that ivory trade was needed to generate income to ultimately aid in conservation efforts and anti-poaching campaigns (Williams, 2016). Countries like Tanzania have certain expectations from their citizens and these expectations include the preservation of the land they live in. By choosing not to burn naturally obtained tusks and use them to generate money, they would be able to provide a more suitable environment that no longer relies on the need for poachers to kill the elephants. Having a country become a place of prosperity is an important aspect between a government and its people. The decision to not burn ivory could be seen as a choice that derives from the social contract theory, because its in the governments best interest to provide a thriving country so that they build a healthier relationship with the citizens. The government has political authority over these situations, and if the people abide by them, then they will be rewarded with an improved nation to be proud of.

Although this might be the case that Tanzania would like to achieve, its not very practical to solve the illegal ivory trade by selling ivory itself to obtain more money. When looking through a Kantian perspective, one might say that this decision is unjust because of other governments not willing to choose the same decision as them. Many wanted to keep the ban on the ivory trade and would rather burn any ivory to keep it from going into the black market; nevertheless, the few African nations that opposed this would be seen as unethical for not following what most organizations would do. John Frederick Walker even states that legal ivory sales promote the poachers to continue their unjustly acts upon the elephants (Walker, 2013). Various organizations would believe in destroying ivory would make a statement to the poachers that ivory is no longer a valuable commodity and that people are able to burn it away without any remorse. The African countries wanting better conservation efforts is a good move; however, their way of obtaining it is not very ideal.

Conservation organizations are undoubtably an important pillar for helping elephant populations avoid their demise, and it’s important to have people invested into the protection of wildlife. An organization known as the Big Life Foundation had found effective ways to improve their numbers of scouts by offering competitive pay and enhancing the overall atmosphere of a ranger’s job (Heminway, 2013). The ingenuity that these activist leaders possess is quite impressive, because they’re able to realize what their community desires and this could be used to persuade rangers to do the tasks that must be carried out. Money makes the world go around and that concept is no exception when it comes to the people in Africa. Creating competitive wages make the rangers work with more effort so that they can have a higher pay, and this is important because these organizations need people who actually want to do the hard work necessary to keep wildlife protected. Conservation efforts had shifted in 2012 where everyone started to take an interest to the issues of wildlife crime, and this trend occurred due to organizations realizing how to properly execute security practices that will effectively fend off poachers (LaFontaine, Allgood, & Ratchford, 2014). When it comes to conservation, it is vital for activists to look at all possible outcomes and find one that produce the most beneficial consequences with the least number of negative outcomes. Its easy to see that these activists behave under an ethical utilitarianism perspective in their lives and it’s probably for the best. Activist look into the best possible way to increase their numbers of rangers and figured that with the sacrifice of more money to pay their workers, there would be a domino effect of an improved organization that can better combat poaching. The activist’s decisions for increasing wages generated more positive outcomes and this included improvement in their livelihood, improved moral character, and an abundance of people applying to become rangers for conservation efforts. Now that Africa has its stable frontlines, other countries should become more involved in being a voice for the elephants.

The ongoing poaching situation that the elephants must endure can’t be won with just its locals in Africa; therefore, the rest of the world must realize why they should genuinely want to help aid in the battle for the elephants. It has been recorded that elephants were somewhat unphased by human presence, but over time they began to show increasing signs of fear and aggression as poaching persisted over a long period of time (Heminway, 2013). Its no surprise that elephants increase their fear of humans, and the way an animal is treated is reflected upon how they act with their care takers. From an ethical care point of view, humans should not single out any animal different from how we view our own animals. The way people care for their dog or cat should be the way they should care for all wildlife creatures. Theoretically, a mother that has multiple children doesn’t have a favorite child and wants to give all of them unconditional love and provide the best life for them. Humans should behave similarly by genuinely wanting to give all wildlife the best possible life, and the animals will gain a happier life from our healthier relationship with them. Even though this seems impractical to convert the world into animal lovers, it is worth a try to raise a society that cares for all living creatures and puts them at higher priority rather than self-interest gains in their decision making.

To believe that a complete ban on ivory can save elephant populations is without a doubt an unrealistic plan and will fail miserably. As long as there are people who demand ivory, there will be those that are desperate enough to do what it takes to make a living out of it. The culture that has been cultivated in Asian countries has allowed a demand for ivory to be present in todays market. Supply and demand is very evident in the illegal market for ivory and eliminating the demand would then create the downfall of poaching. A solution that can provide the best interest for the stake holders of ivory trade is not important because what truly matters is the situation at hand. There will evidently be parties that will lose a part of their lifestyle for the sake of the elephants. Humans are resilient and can always adapt to a new lifestyle; nevertheless, drastic measures must be created and executed in time before its too late for the elephants. A solution that comes to mind is a very morbid yet effective to decrease demand of ivory. This solution involves the creation of museums in Asia that depict the history of ivory and the process it goes through to get to their markets. Having an increase of people who are oblivious to what happens behind the scenes will soon realize that they contribute to a horrendous act upon wildlife. What the people are taught will be drilled into heads and this lesson can be taught to future generations to cultivate a society that shuns the use of ivory. The museums should be regulated by government law to be near or at places that sell ivory, and this will cause the people to notice the harsh truths to those who are planning on purchasing said ivory. Stores that fail to have these museums could have their shops shut down and fined for not following the law. Such utilitarian ethical methods must be done in order to successfully carry out this idea. It’s important to see all possible outcomes when creating such a plan because the solution that benefits the elephants the most is the way to go. Having these museums might cause a stir in the communities; however, this plan might be the solution that can end up doing the most benefits by creating a more conscious consumer of products, putting an end to poaching, and ultimately saving the elephant population.


  1. Heminway, J (Producer & Director). (2013). Battle for the Elephants [Documentary]. United States: National Geographic. Retrieved from
  2. LaFontaine, P., Allgood, B., & Ratchford, M. (2014). Treasured to Death: Elephants, Ivory, and the Resurgence of a Crisis. Natural Resources & Environment, 29(1), 31-38. Retrieved from
  3. Shafer-Landau, Russ. (2015). The fundamentals of ethics. New York: Oxford University Press
  4. Smith, C. (2018). THE END OF IVORY. In Golley J. & Jaivin L. (Eds.), Prosperity (pp. 170-175). Acton ACT, Australia: ANU Press. Retrieved from
  5. Walker, J. (2013). Rethinking Ivory: Why Trade in Tusks Won’t Go Away. World Policy Journal, 30(2), 91-100. Retrieved from
  6. Williams, J. (2016). The Convoluted Nature of the African Ivory Trade: Possible Solutions for Curbing the Destructive Nature of Poaching and Promoting Elephant Conservation. Consilience, (15), 181-192. Retrieved from
  7. Wong, K. (2014). Tusk to Dust. Scientific American, 310(2), 18-18.  

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Animal Poaching And Illegal Ivory Trade. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from
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