Is Ivory Illegal in Singapore?

96 elephants killed a day

That adds up to over 30,000 a year. A sad summation of the state of one of the world’s most iconic species.  In the early part of the 20th century, there were estimated to be 3-5 million African elephants. Now there are 470,000.  The main threat to elephants is the surge in demand for ivory coupled with the swift increase in poaching to satisfy that demand.

For example, Tanzania lost 60% of its elephant population over a period of just 5 years and Mozambique lost half over the same time frame.

African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana africana); Kenya


So where is the ivory going and how is it getting there? Much of that illegal ivory is shipped across the world from Africa to Asian countries, the major destination being China. The trafficking networks use certain transit points, and,  according to the wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC,  Singapore is a significant global hub for wildlife smuggling.

Not surprising then that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Singapore Customs have intercepted huge ivory hauls here. Since 2002 they have siezed over 12.5 tonnes of  ivory. This includes worked or carved ivory pieces but also a total of 3,520 pieces of ‘raw’ ivory tusk. Those tusks alone represent over 1700 illegally killed elephants.  The staggering truth is, it is widely believed that this could very well be just the tip of the iceberg, representing only a proportion of the smuggled ivory transiting though Singapore.


Elephant Ivory Singapore Infograph 2


There is a ban on international trade of elephants,  introduced in 1989 by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This was brought into effect after years of unprecedented poaching. In the 1980s, an estimated 100,000 elephants were being killed per year and up to 80% of herds were lost in some regions.7884702350_3a01d8f22f_c

The ban allowed some populations to recover, especially where elephants were adequately protected.

But there has been an upsurge in poaching and illegal ivory trafficking in recent years, driven by increasing demand in Asia, which has led to steep declines in forest elephant numbers and some savannah elephant populations.

Insufficient anti-poaching capacity, weak law enforcement and corruption undermine efforts to stop the poaching and trafficking in some countries, so even though elephants are theoretically protected their populations are still being decimated.

There is much to do if we are to save the elephant species and WWF believes we can. Right now, the WWF African Elephant Programme is working to help African nations improve protection of elephants, monitor and track illegal wildlife networks and and prevent human-elephant conflict.


The answer is yes, it is legal to buy ivory but only from old stock –  ivory that dates back to the pre-90s, before the elephant officially became an endangered species here. This poses its own problems as it can be very tricky to prove what era ivory comes from and there is a chance that recently poached ivory could masquerade as vintage ivory. But all this may not matter much in Singapore according to a  survey conducted by TRAFFIC in 2012. The results suggest there is no market for ivory in Singapore – it is simply not in fashion. The survey found 365 pieces of ivory for sale in Singapore compared to over 8,000 pieces a decade earlier.

 © WWF/Mike Goldwater
© WWF/Mike Goldwater

The US followed similar rules regarding the sale of vintage ivory until a  landmark ruling in June 2016 when the country decided to take its ivory restrictions a step further marking a real win for elephants. The US, the second largest market for ivory in the world behind China, declared a ban on nearly all ivory,  changing rules which allow vintage ivory to be sold and reducing the amount of ‘trophy-hunted’ ivory allowed to enter the country.

#worth more alive

The images of the huge ivory stacks from history’s biggest ever burn of spoils from the illegal wildlife trade are difficult to forget. On 30 April 2016, over a 100 tonnes of ivory, tusks from over 8000 elephants  were formed into 12 huge pyres and set alight in Nairobi National Park in Kenya. Ivory burns are symbolic and will not solve the poaching crisis but they do send out the message that wildlife trade will not be tolerated.

Kenya is not the only country taking this action. A number of Asian countries have also publicly destroyed their ivory stocks in recent years,  including China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

One of 12 pyres, largest ivory burn in history, Kenya.

One of 12 pyres, largest ivory burn in history, Kenya.

Singapore has sent much of the illegal ivory it has intercepted back to Africa,  but it is understood the authorities may still have custody of some illegal ivory.  With Singapore’s stringent security systems its unlikely that any of that ivory will leak back onto the black market and anyway local demand for ivory, it seems,  doesn’t exist. But if Singapore was to follow suit and publicly destroy any ivory stockpile would that send out a strong message that misuse of our transit systems by wildlife traffickers will not be tolerated?

What do you think?


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  • Chevon, June 6, 2016 @ 2:29 pm Reply

    Do we know what happens to the ivory after it is sent back to Africa from Singapore? Is there a way to make sure it does not fall back into the wrong hands? I do agree that publicly destroying wildlife parts will send a strong signal to poachers and wildlife criminals. Singapore should use this not only to deter future shipments but also to educate Singaporeans to be more conscious of conservation and wildlife trafficking. It’s not only about elephants or exotic wildlife parts. There are wild animals suffering in the local pet trade and as a result of continued deforestation too.

    • Louise Wood, June 14, 2016 @ 4:07 pm Reply

      Hi Chevon, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We have asked the AVA the same question about what happens to ivory that is sent back to Africa. We hope the Singapore authorities will undertake future audits of all illegal wildlife products seized to help track all items, even if sent back to the country of origin.

  • Chandran, August 30, 2018 @ 2:15 pm Reply

    There should be zero ivory trading and sales. Ivory figuring are still up for sales at Chinatown and Cash Converters. This pretense of only sales of pre~ban products are allowed to be purchased utter arrogance. Ivory products are now dyed and on sales in various colors. Some are even masked as coral. AVA must adopt UK style of imposing absolutely no ivory for purchases or for trading.

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