How do illegal ivory traders operate? Field research among illegal ivory traders aims to give an answer.

Kristof Titeca
Analysis and Policy Brief 31

Much has been written about illegal ivory trade, from a variety of perspectives, ranging from DNA forensics to fascinating insights into how the ivory trade evolved or the impact of ivory trade bans. An actor which is largely missing from these analyses is the ivory trader himself, which my work aims to address. 
While research on illegal activities – on illegal trade in particular – has a long tradition, this is less the case for illegal wildlife trade. Between 2012 and 2017, I followed up eleven ivory traders in their activities in two specific locations, both of which are key nodes in this trade: the Ugandan–DRC borderlands (more specifically the border towns Arua in Uganda and Aru in the DRC) and the Ugandan capital Kampala. Since 2007, Uganda has increasingly established itself as a major transit point for ivory. CITES calls Uganda a country of ‘primary concern’ in the illicit ivory trade: it is listed as one of the ten countries worldwide ‘linked to the greatest illegal ivory trade flows since 2012’. 
The main interest in my work is how these traders are navigating structural circumstances within a criminalized informal economy. In other words: what happens when circumstances such as supply/demand, or government policies, are changing? The results were published in International Affairs and the British Journal of Criminology, and are summarized in this analysis brief. 

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