Poaching elephants for their ivory is profitable because the price of ivory has risen from about $50 per kilo to nearly $300 per kilo. Around 94% of all the ivory being traded internationally if from poached elephants. Around 20% of ivory in "legal" when it leaves Africa because governments legalize poached ivory when it is confiscated. The remaining 80% in laundered into the "legal" ivory system so that by the time carved ivory reaches the streets of Hong Kong legal and illegal ivory are indistinguishable.
From 1979 to 1987, 6,828 tonnes of ivory were exported from Africa representing from 680,000 to 760,000 elephants, which may be a low estimate. The biggest importers are Japan, with nearly 40% of the trade, Singapore, Hong Kong and Belgium. From 1973 to 1982, 300 tonnes of ivory were exported from Burundi to Belgium, representing the death of 25,000 elephants in neighbouring Zaire and Tanzania, the countries of origin of the tusks.
It is legal ivory trade which has consumed the ivory from one million African elephants in the past 10 years up to 1989.
The probable effect of a ban will be to drive the price of ivory up faster. As the legal supply from managed herds of elephants is stopped the poaching will continue and the increased demand will drive the price up as buyers turn to smugglers for supplies. The real solution to the decline of the African elephant is to manage herds and control trade like Botswana, where herds have grown; and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Namibia where herds are stable. The revenue from their exports of ivory and elephant leather helps pay for conservation work. Zimbabwe has long found big-game hunting an even more lucrative use for its elephants. 100 - 200 elephants are allowed to be killed by American or German hunters who spend $15,000 all told, some of which goes to local guides and bearers.