In 1990, in response to plummeting elephant populations, the trade of African elephant ivory was banned internationally by way of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, (CITES). (Asian elephant ivory was banned in 1975.) By all indications, the ban has had the desired effect: being unable to sell ivory has meant the market for it collapsed, as was quickly apparent judging from this archived New York Times article from 1990.
The populations of a few southern African nations- Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe- but that's it. Even there, the four had to fight with the rest of the continent, who were aiming for a total ban. And the trade of them is extremely limited. In the southern nations, ivory seized is stockpiled by the government, and occasionally sold off under CITES surveillance to raise
money. South Africa, for instance, held one such sale in 2008, and even then it was only the ivory of elephants who died of natural causes and elephants who had to be put down by park rangers for non-poaching reasons.
What is Gabon doing with the ivory they seize? They're going to burn it. Ivory on the market, in their eyes, is ivory on the market, period. If ivory is available, someone will want it.
Kenya has been meaning to take their poachers to court, but more often they end up having to just shoot them dead on the scene.
Meanwhile, Cameroon is stepping up their efforts to deter poachers, handing out historically high fines and prison terms to 17 poachers caught in March. Or at least, they're trying to deter it. Cameroon has been struggling to cope with a recent spike in poaching, spurred on by Chinese demand, thought to be in response to South Africa's 2008 sale. Which helps explain Gabon's decision to burn the ivory: ivory on the market is ivory on the market. No matter where it comes from or how.
There's also the issue of the occasional rich guy with nothing better to do, if the Zimbabwe hunting safari undertaken by Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., sons of Donald Trump, last year is any indication, under which they've recently come under fire for using an unlicensed operator. The Trumps took several photos of themselves posing with their various kills, photos which are drawing additional controversy because this is not the turn of the 1900's anymore and nobody's impressed by you 'bagging' a leopard or a crocodile or a cape buffalo or an antelope or holding up an elephant tail. Their claim that all the meat from the kills was donated to local villages is undercut by the fact that, where they were hunting, there were no nearby villages.
Why was there a photo of one of them holding up an elephant tail? As Donald Jr. tweeted, “@imyourlawyer mutilating a corpse? A villager cut the tail off as part of their traditions from the old ivory hunters I went with it.”
Donald is correct about it being an ivory hunter tradition; the tail was proof of who killed what. But that merely obscures the point here... the old ivory hunters.
At least they didn't take the tusks.