From 1979 to 1989, Africa lost half of its elephant population due to poaching (illegal hunting) and illegal ivory trade. Elephants are often killed for their tusks, which are made of ivory. The elephant population decreased from an estimated 1.3 million to 600,000. This led, in October 1989, to a change in the African elephant's status of "threatened" to "endangered," according to the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Threatened means "likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range [the geographic area in which a kind of animal or plant normally lives or grows]." Endangered means "in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."
An ivory ban took effect on January 18, 1990. However, six African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, and Zambia) wish to resume the ivory trade and, to that end, are trying to return the elephants to a "threatened" status.
Many African nations have begun to realize that living elephants are of greater value than dead ones. Kenya considers a living elephant to be worth $14,375 in tourism income for every year of its life, giving it a potential life-time value of $900,000. The ivory from an average elephant killed for its tusks would be worth only $1,000 (the price paid before the ban on ivory took effect in October 1989).
Sources: New Scientist, vol. 133 (February 29, 1992), pp. 49-50, and vol. 133 (March 14, 1992), p. 11.