Short Communication

Trade in Asian elephant ivory in Sri Lanka

Charles Santiapillai c1, Ajith Silvaa1, Champika Karyawasama1, Shameema Esufalia1, Salila Jayaniththia1, Mano Basnayakea1, Vasantha Unantennea1 and S. Wijeyamohana2

a1 Postgraduate Institute of Science, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

a2 Department of Biology, University of Jaffna, Vavuniya Campus, Sri Lanka.


Elephants Elephas maximus have declined in range and number in the wild in Sri Lanka, from c. 12,000 at the turn of the nineteenth century to c. 4000 today. While in the distant past the decline in elephant numbers was due largely to indiscriminate killing by sportsmen and trophy hunters, today elephants are being killed primarily because they interfere with agriculture. Human-elephant conflicts have increased substantially in the recent past and ivory poaching has become a byproduct of such conflicts. Elephant tusks have been used traditionally in the ivory-carving industry in Sri Lanka since the time of the ancient kings. Until the turn of the century, very little ivory was imported from Africa because there was a plentiful supply of tuskers locally available. Sri Lankan ivory carvers started to use African ivory in 1910. Today ivory and fake-ivory products are sold openly to tourists in some 86 shops in the island. Before the listing of the African elephant in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the value of raw ivory in Sri Lanka used to be $US228–285 per kg. After the listing, the price fell to $US72 per kg, reflecting a drastic drop in the demand for ivory from tourists. Many ivory carvers have switched to other jobs or are using substitutes (such as bone and horn) to produce fake-ivory carvings. Only about 7.5 per cent of bulls in Sri Lanka are tuskers and they are under poaching pressure outside protected areas. Given the rarity of tuskers in Sri Lanka, promotion of trade in ivory products, even locally, may pose a serious threat to their long-term survival in the wild.

(Revised March 06 1998)

(Accepted September 07 1998)


c1 Department of Zoology, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. E-mail: csanti@slt.lk