John Frederick Walker

JFW review of The Ivory Trade of Laos: Now the Fastest Growing in the World

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on September 25, 2018

My review of Esmond Bradley Martin and Lucy Vigne’s latest ivory trade report appears in the issue 59 of Pachyderm.  I write that it makes for grim but “required reading for anyone trying to keep up with how the international ivory trade continues to fuel crisis-level elephant poaching.”  The review can accessed here.



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JFW review of Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on October 1, 2017


My review of Keith Somerville’s important new book Ivory appears in the current issue of Pachyderm.  Somerville, a veteran of numerous assignments in Africa during his career with the BBC, brings his journalistic skills to this grim, detailed chronicle of the exploitation of elephants and disempowered Africans. Click here for the complete review. 




The Dark Side of Ivory Prohibition: Will it help elephants or just vandalize culture?

Posted in art news, conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on August 4, 2017
In a just-published essay in The Smart Set, I look at how recent anti-ivory attitudes threaten to become counter-productive to anti-poaching efforts.  It’s a controversial subject, but shouldn’t be ignored.

With 25,000 African elephants being slain every year for their tusks, maybe it was inevitable that elephant advocates would grow impatient with critically important but slow-paced efforts to help rural communities co-exist with Africa’s herds, root out endemic corruption in range states, and expose international wildlife trafficking rings.

Now, nearly three decades after the ban, with no end to elephant poaching in sight, their attitudes have gone strident, spiraling into emotion-driven campaigns and unhinged extremism that threatens to turn the war on poaching into an incoherent war on ivory….


Read the entire article at

JFW on mammoth ivory

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on March 28, 2017

In a fascinating BBC News piece on How an obscure seed is helping to save the elephant, business reporter Kait Bolongaro explains how tagua seed from ivory-nut palms (known as “vegetable ivory”) and tusks from long-extinct mammoths are finding ready markets as substitutes for elephant ivory.  I’m quoted on ethically-sourced mammoth ivory  from the Siberian tundra, which varies from hard, almost petrified examples, to remarkably well-preserved tusks.

“John Frederick Walker, an expert on ivory, says: ‘Master carvers tend to prefer elephant ivory because fresh elephant ivory is easier to carve. But in fact, you can make wonderful things from mammoth ivory.’ ”

Both tagua and mammoth ivory are examples of natural, organic materials   that share much of the tactile attraction of elephant ivory, but unlike tusks from poached elephants, can be sourced guilt-free: the first is a palm-tree seed, the second from a long-expired ancestor of today’s elephant.


JFW on Ivory Trade

Posted in conservation news, ivory news by JFW on January 5, 2017



Wéi kann der illegaler Juegd op Elefanten an Nashörner en Enn gesat ginn?


I was recently interviewed on Radio Luxembourg by Mohamed Hamdi for an episode centered on the ivory trade. The entire program is here, presented in Luxembourgish.  My responses included the following:

“I’m basically against the trade of animal products from threatened and endangered species, but with some exceptions. It’s important to distinguish between wildlife products that require the death of the animal and those that don’t.  And you don’t have to kill elephants to get their tusks. Eventually, like all creatures, they die and leave behind their tusks. Something like 15 to 20 tons a year of this natural mortality ivory is recovered in the bush and warehoused in African national park systems. As long as there are these animals, there’s going to be ivory. The argument for allowing a highly regulated and transparent trade in legal ivory is that it creates a socially acceptable outlet for legitimate interest and no-harm-to-elephants ivory. All other ivory commerce by contrast would be unacceptable, illicit, criminal, rightly condemned on the grounds that it threatens elephants. I think that the very existence of historic carvings and legal ivory of this nature means that  a complete prohibition of ivory commerce is never going to be universally accepted. Total prohibition is just going to drive demand under ground where it can only be supplied by organized crime….”

JFW on CCTV-America Ivory Trade Debate

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I was interviewed on CCTV-America last night on the ivory trade in a debate with Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA.  As always, not enough time to make a number of key points, but was able to discuss some critical issues.  The 8-minute exchange is here.

Kenya’s 100 ton ivory burn

Posted in conservation news, ivory news by JFW on April 29, 2016


On April 30, 2016, Kenya will incinerate 105 metric tons of ivory—5% of global stocks— to “send a message.” Does this make sense?  Or is it a “self-delusional publicity stunt,” as  Mike Norton-Griffiths and Daniel Stiles wrote in the Times of London today, one that could cause a spike in ivory prices, and stimulate more poaching?

Louise Osborne’s piece, “To burn or sell ivory: Which can put an end to elephant poaching?” also appeared today in Deutsche Welle.  She surveys current pro-burn conservation opinion on the planned destruction and also includes my take on the matter:

“John Frederick Walker, who has written widely on the trade of ivory, says ivory has been valued since prehistoric times and is not simply a ‘passing fad.’

‘The earliest carvings humans ever made were from the ivory of woolly mammoth,’ Walker told DW. ‘The attraction to ivory is embedded in world culture, from ancient Egypt to Europe to the far East. It’s a fantasy to think demand is ever going to disappear entirely,’ Walker said.

Instead, Walker advocates a highly restricted, controlled legal trade in naturally occurring ivory. This would work through use of techniques such as radiocarbon dating, micro-chipping and databases to keep track of the industry….”

Unfortunately, such arguments for harnessing demand through managing trade in legal ivory are increasingly viewed as fringe opinions.  That leaves only ivory stockpile destruction and ivory prohibition as strategy options, neither of which is likely to reduce elephant poaching.

Why Prohibiting Trade in Ivory Won’t Save Elephants

Posted in elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on June 3, 2015

ele sepiaWhat if we’re wrong about how best to save elephants from being killed for their ivory?  In an opinion piece for Earth Island Journal, I argue that a controlled, legal trade is more likely to slow elephant poaching than the outright ban of all ivory trade now widely advocated.  The article is here.

JFW on ivory trade at ASIL meeting in Washington DC

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on April 16, 2015

Wildlife Photo

On April 9th, I joined Craig Hoover, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Susan Lieberman, Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, and Anna Frostic, Humane Society of the U.S., on an American Society of International Law panel in Washington, DC organized by Rachelle Adam of Hebrew University. The subject?  “Can International Law Help Prevent the Rapid Disappearance of Wildlife?” The entire panel can be seen on YouTube.  My presentation starts at 17 minutes in, and runs for 13 minutes.

The Case for a Legal Ivory Trade

Posted in conservation news, elephant and ivory news, ivory news by JFW on October 13, 2014

Ivory Trade Debate: Should the International Ban on Ivory Be Lifted?

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“In a Yale Environment 360 debate, author John Frederick Walker and conservationist Mary Rice offer opposing views on whether the global ban on ivory trading should be eased. Walker argues that a partial lifting of the ban would reduce demand for illicit ivory, while Rice insists such a move would only accelerate the slaughter of Africa’s elephants.” Read the entire debate here.

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