Authorities say ivory market ‘starting to tank’

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Thai customs officers arrange confiscated elephant tusks during a press conference at the Customs Bureau in Bangkok on April 20, 2015. Thai customs seized 739 pieces of ivory tusk weighing 4,000 kilograms and worth six million USD (200 million baht) after it arrived from Congo. AFP PHOTO / PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Thai customs officers arrange confiscated elephant tusks in Bangkok, Thailand. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images)

A wildlife trade regulator said black market prices on ivory have drastically fallen globally, suggesting that international efforts to crack down on the illegal trade are having an impact.

John Scanlon, head of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), told the Agence France-Presse at a conference, “we’re seeing the price of ivory start to tank,” adding “you’re seeing the bottom fall out of the market.”

Carved ivory is shown to the media before being destroyed in Beijing on May 29, 2015. China destroyed more than six hundred kilograms of ivory in front of media and diplomats, as it seeks to shed its image as a global trading hub for illegal elephant tusks. AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Ivory is used in traditional medicines, as well as carved into decorations, like these ivory statuettes. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Watchdog agencies say organized crime networks and militant rebel groups use the sale of ivory to fund their operations, with the smuggled goods largely making their way to Asia, where their use in decorations and traditional “medicine” fuel the multi-billion-dollar market.

The ivory trade has been banned in most of the world since 1989, after that the African elephant population had dropped from millions in the mid-1900s to only around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

A report by Kenya-based conservation group Save the Elephants showed that over an 18-month time frame, the price of ivory in China had been cut in half, $1,100 per kilo, down from $2,100 in 2014, an all-time high.

Still, authorities say poachers in Africa still slaughtering 30,000 elephants a year.

China has taken action to reduce the ivory trade — although a total ban has not been enacted — and awareness about the reality of the ivory market is spreading among the Chinese public.

NAIROBI, KENYA - MARCH 3: A ranger stands guard near burning ivories in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 3, 2015. Between 20,000 and 25,000 elephants are killed in Africa annually and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday set fire to 15 tons of elephant tusk in a symbolic measure meant to deter illegal poaching. (Photo by Magdalene Mukami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A ranger stands guard near a mound of burning ivory in Nairobi, Kenya, a gesture meant to deter illegal poaching. (Magdalene Mukami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Other countries around the world have stepped up efforts to stop poachers, track and seize ivory shipments, and inflict harsher penalties to those found involved in the trade.

Scanlon said the trade “is shifting from low risk, high profit to high risk, low profit,” which is deincentivizing all levels of the market, from the poachers to the top investors.

Despite the shift, the problem is far from solved.

Best estimates place the African elephant population at only 450,000 to 500,000 today and still in decline. Yearly killing rates are outpacing the natural birth rates.

“We are faced with terrifying levels of poaching and illegal trade,” Niger’s representative Mariama Ali Omar told the CITES conference.

Many representatives at the conference demanded that countries destroy their ivory stockpiles, and called for nations that allow the trade to “stop it.”

Although the recent findings are a step in the right direction, some worry that time is running out for the elephants.

KENYA - 2013/10/28: Male African elephants (Loxodonta Africana) sparing in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

African elephants graze in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. (Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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