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© WWF-Hong Kong

Today, there are four species of elephants – the African savannah elephant, the African forest elephant and the Asian elephant and Borneo elephant. Like humans, elephants are social animals and communicate with each other. They are also highly intelligent animals, forming strong social bonds similar to humans. Elephant tusks never stop growing, so enormous tusks can be a sign of an old elephant. Both male and female African elephants grow tusks, but only male Asian elephants grow them. On average, elephants live to about 70 years, similar to humans.

Elephant tusks are teeth and continue to grow throughout an elephant’s life without them being lost.
So ivory of any kind would have come from a dead elephant that was most likely killed for its ivory. More than 20,000 elephants are killed every year to satisfy demand for ivory in Asia, particularly in China and Japan. Based on current levels of poaching by organised crime networks, elephants face extinction within five to 10 years.


If you travel to China with ivory products, the case value standard is RMB 250,000 per tusk. For worked and fragmented ivory, such as figurines, bracelets and beads the case value standard is RMB 41,667 per kilogram. The maximum penalty for smuggling ivory into China is life imprisonment.

© WWF / James Morgan

Most countries have now banned the sale and possession of ivory including China, which has outlawed the import and export of ivory, and domestic processing and sale of ivory for commercial purposes with severe penalties that include 10 years to life in prison. In 2018, Hong Kong increased the maximum penalty for serious wildlife crimes to up to 10 years imprisonment, and ban all local sale, import, or export of ivory (except certified antique ivory) by 2021. Organised crime – the same network behind the illegal trade in drugs, arms and human trafficking – is heavily involved in all stages of the ivory trade from poaching to sales.

© WWF-Hong Kong