In the 1970’s, the global demand for ivory threatened to make the elephant population extinct. Poachers with access to automatic weapons derived from civil wars and international arms sales were killing herds of elephants faster than ever before. From 1970 to 1985, the total elephant population of Africa decreased by half. But, owing to the rapid decline in the elephant population due to the poaching, especially during and before the 1980’s, many countries have banned or severely restricted the importation and sale of ivory. At a 1989 CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora) meeting, 115 countries decided to ban the international trade of ivory in the hopes of restoring elephant populations to healthy levels. In 1996 and 1997, a severe effort was made by certain countries to lift this ban, at least partially. Elephant populations in Africa as a whole are increasing, in part, thanks to the CITES ban and with elephants being listed on the most endangered species list.
During the 1980’s, poachers killed an estimated average of 200 African Elephants every day for their tusks. This caused the population to plummet from 1.3 million in 1979 to 625,000 in less than a decade. In 1990, a ban was placed on the international trade of ivory. As a symbolic gesture of this, Kenya destroyed its ivory stockpile valued at over $3 million. This ban, however, did not affect the domestic sale and use of ivory. Since the ban went into effect, the population has fallen only slightly, to 580,000.
Kenya has, since the 1980’s, been foremost in the effort to promote elephant conservation. In the 1970’s, 1900 elephants were killed in Kenya for their tusks and, in the 1980’s, 8300 elephants died at the hands of poachers. But, since the 1990 CITES ban, only 34 have been killed illegally, which dramatically increases Kenya's elephant population from 19,000 in 1989 to 26,800. The United States was one of the main countries to impose the ivory ban and it continues to oppose the lifting of the ban. Most of the illegal import of ivory has been into China, a non-member of the CITES.
Some countries have programmes that involve regulated hunting, mostly by foreigners who pay for hunting licenses, with local community decision-making and participation. But because of the monetary resources derived from limited hunting and community use, these countries are in a better position to afford improved patrolling facilities and monitoring. In addition, the local residents are less inclined to kill elephants because they are receiving revenues from the use of these animals. Communities sell access to their elephants to safari operators, thereby increasingly obtaining real benefits from elephants. They are, in return, investing resources to defend their elephants against poachers.
Here is more on elephants and their ivory: http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/poach.htm