The ivory trade has long been recognized as an impediment to elephant conservation and, after being banned for 2 decades, since 2007 all trade in ivory has been strictly regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Angola is the only elephant-range country that is not a signatory to the Convention. In 2001 Angola agreed to become a Party to the Convention but conclusive documents have yet to be ratified. Angola does formally partake in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), which tracks the trade and confiscation of ivory, but since its inception in 1989 it has not submitted a report to this body. Nevertheless, the country was singled out in the most recent ETIS analysis as it is potentially a key country for the export and transit of large consignments of illicit ivory (Milliken et al., 2013, Monitoring of Illegal Trade in Ivory and other Elephant Specimens, CoP16 Doc 53.2.2). Angola is home to two species of elephant, the forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis in the north and the savannah elephant Loxodonta africana in the north-east and south. Under Angolan legislation it is illegal to kill elephants without a hunting licence and possession and trade of ivory requires special permission. Despite these laws, to the best of our knowledge no enforcement or regular monitoring of the ivory trade is conducted by Angolan authorities.
In 2005 the wildlife trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC surveyed this trade in Angola, mostly in and near the capital Luanda, and found significant and open trade in ivory (Milliken et al., 2006, No Peace for Elephants, TRAFFIC, Cambridge). One market, the Benfica craft market south of Luanda, was responsible for over 90% of the ivory for sale. This included 24 polished tusks and 183 large carvings. On 29 August and 19 September 2013 we had the opportunity to revisit the Benfica craft market, where we found ongoing open sale of tusks and ivory carvings. During the second visit we systematically counted and photographed all larger pieces of ivory and were able to count c. 60–70% of the smaller items for sale (these were often displayed in large piles, hampering counting of individual items). The market is divided into two sections. The first section is arranged with tables in several aisles, where wooden sculptures, animal products, paintings and small items are displayed; the second section comprises mainly large wooden sculptures and fabrics. All the ivory was displayed in the first section and it was by far the most common animal product on sale. A total of 27 stalls were observed displaying ivory, 10 exclusively. The items for sale included 50 polished ivory tusks as well as 92 large (> 20 cm) and 70 medium-sized (10–20 cm) carvings. Smaller items included 125 necklaces, 342 bangles (two-thirds large and thick, one-third thin), 400 chopsticks (displayed in bundles of 20), 93 name seals and 892 other small items (including hair pieces, rings, combs, earrings and ‘lion teeth’).
Although all quotes were given in the national currency it was clear the traders were targeting foreign tourists. The presence of name seals, chopsticks and Buddha and dragon figurines, as well as the presence of Chinese-speaking clientele, suggest a direct link to East Asian markets. The shape and size of the tusks on display indicated that the ivory originated from African forest elephants as opposed to savannah elephants but the exact origin is unknown. Traders indicated that the ivory originated from within Angola but in 2005 the TRAFFIC team reasoned convincingly that the ivory was more likely to originate from the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo than from Angola. Our observations confirm that there is still an open and significant trade in ivory at Benfica but with more whole tusks for sale than in 2005. Considering that most of the elephant range in Angola has yet to be surveyed, the effect of the ivory trade on the population remains unknown. In October 2013 it was announced that Angola would join CITES as its 179th Party, with the Convention entering into force at the end of December 2013. This gives a glimmer of hope that the country will start reporting details of its ivory trade to CITES and ETIS and hopefully this will lead to a clampdown of the open ivory trade in and near its capital.