African elephants (Loxodonta africana) can be found across central and southern Africa. The largest land mammal in the world, a bull African elephant can weigh more than 13,000 pounds! African elephants are known to travel in family herds with females and their calves staying together for many years.


Credit: Michelle Gadd/USFWS

For centuries, elephants have been hunted for their tusks, either for trophies or for the art of ivory carving and jewelry making.  Although the tusks or teeth of several mammal species (including warthog, walrus, hippopotamus, and several whales) are used as ivory, the tusks from African elephants and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are most desired by the global ivory market. 
The demand for elephant ivory led to devastating declines in the number of these giant animals particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.  Despite international efforts to control the ivory trade and stop the decline of elephant populations, prices and demand for ivory remain high, resulting in continued poaching of elephants for their tusks.  Poaching and habitat loss are the major threats to African elephants today.

Laws & Regulations

In 1978, the African elephant was listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). The African elephant was first listed in Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1976 and moved to Appendix II the following year.  In 1990, after nearly a decade during which African elephant populations dropped by almost 50%, the species was moved to Appendix I of CITES. In 1997, some recovering populations were moved back to Appendix II with strict limitations on trade in ivory.  U.S. regulations implementing CITES can be found at 50 CFR 23.

Through the African Elephant Conservation Act, passed in 1988 by the U.S. Congress, a moratorium on the import of African elephant ivory was established in 1989. This moratorium, still in place, makes it illegal to import raw African elephant ivory into the U.S. from any country unless certain conditions are met. As a result of this legislation, the African Elephant Conservation Fund was established and Congress has appropriated millions of dollars to the fund since its creation.

CITES Information Systems
CITES has established the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) to track illegal trade by maintaining a record of seizures of elephant specimens, along with a system called Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) to measure levels and trends in illegal killing of elephants.