After the sudden rise in ivory poaching that started around 2008 there was a big increase in protection though this was often to slow. Half of the forest elephants of west Africa (thought to be as closely related to mammoths as African Savannah elephants), were taken in the last decade. ecosystems such as the Selous in Tanzania, one of the largest mostly undisturbed remaining Savannah habits, which lost up to 100,000 elephants.
This increase in demand was spiked by the cites agreement with southern African countries to be able to sell off some of their ivory stocks, taken routinely from animals found dead. This is not the first time one of these “one off” sales occurred. CITES has been holding them every now and then to force the price of elephant ivory down – thereby reducing the willingness for people to make the hugely risky hunting trip into protected areas. These trips are highly dangerous, as elephants are highly intelligent and so are very dangerous to hunt, but they are also dangerous because game rangers have I many countries been given permission to use deadly force against poachers.
This means ivory poaching must have higher rewards for people to be willing to risk it.
The unfortunate problem with this brief period of legal ivory trading, is it changed the attitude in several Asian countries at a time of great financial growth. This means that at a time of growing middle class wealth, there was a lot of ivory floating around.
Countries such as Vietnam and China ended up with huge demand for ivory despite there being little historical use. Also in these countries, there is little or no understanding of where this comes from. The majority of these people have no idea of the killing of elephants to supply this trade or the long term threat this causes, ie unless it is stopped elephants could be largely extinct in a couple of decades.
There was a suggestion to mine ivory from frozen mammoths in the Russian tundra, to supply this ivory. The problem with this, is there appears to be no peak demand for ivory. This means selling mammoth ivory merely feeds the demand, and when the mammoth ivory runs out the demand will flip back to elephant ivory.
So the ivory ban just going into place is to try to stop another move of this demand, which could hugely reduce other species.
These other places to find ivory include walrus tusks, hippo teeth and narwhal horns. A switch to these ivory sources could threaten these animals very quickly, and is therefore a very sensible move by the government.