The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), managed by TRAFFIC International, was originally mandated by the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Its purpose is to track levels and trends in the illegal trade in elephant ivory and other elephant products under CITES resolution Conf. 10.10 so as to inform decision making on elephants.
ETIS comprises reported records of seizures and subsidiary data on covariates related to the illegal ivory trade. Using data of reported ivory seizures (or indeed seizures of any kind) to learn about trends in illicit trade is difficult because countries differ in their ability to make and report seizures. Hence, simple summaries of seizures data that trends or differences between countries conflate differences in trade, law enforcement and reporting effort. There are no off-the-shelf analyses to account for these differences.
As part of a Darwin Initiative project I led, we (Bob Burn, the statistician who developed the original information system, and Tom Milliken, the then director of ETIS and me) developed a new statistical modelling framework for ETIS. To do this we (1) created proxy variables that capture aspects of why countries differ in their ability to make and report seizures and (2) developed a statistical modelling approach to account for these differences and bring together data on ivory seizures of all sizes from a few grammes to several tonnes from across the whole trade chain.
The first analysis using this approach was for the 13th Conference of the Parties (CoP13). This analysis provided information on trends in the illegal trade over time and identified countries with similar roles in the trade. Since that first analysis, I have refined and improved the approach including in response to feedback from the CITES Parties and made the code publicly available.
The framework has been used to report on the illegal ivory trade for all subsequent CoPs. These analyses inform international decision making on elephants, including contributing to identifying countries that require a National Ivory Action Plan to improve their approach to tackling the illegal ivory trade.