Long-time elephant conservationist Daniel Stiles has an excellent blog at National Geographic on elephant conservation and the ivory trade. I think everybody who is concerned with conservation policy and elephants should read it.
On the 80’s poaching crisis-
Tragically, the rising calls for an ivory trade ban increased poaching because East Asian dealers and factories decided to stockpile for future use. The two fed each other in a positive feedback loop—increased poaching, increased calls for control, leading to more poaching to stockpile, ad infinitum until the ban
On the current situation
It was not only Chinese consumer interest in carved ivory that sparked the poaching crisis beginning in 2008-09. Investors, a.k.a. speculators, also became interested in raw ivory—tusks. After anti-trade NGOs succeeded in forcing a nine-year moratorium on proposals for future legal ivory sales from southern Africa at the CITES Conference of the Parties in 2007, unscrupulous ivory dealers saw that there was even more money to be made from poached tusks, because uncertainty of supply fuels speculation.
I’ve added my emphasis to the last statement. When we create uncertainty about future supply, the bad guys respond by ramping up poaching to stockpile ivory.
On the solution- a regular, secure ivory supply from natural mortality etc
While no exact figure can be put at present on how much ivory would be available from stockpiles, natural mortality and PAC combined, I am confident that a minimum of 60 tons of legal ivory could be exported from Africa annually for at least ten years, without a single poached tusk needed. During this ten-year period, intense demand-reduction campaigns can be mounted so that renewable resource ivory from natural deaths and PAC can supply demand sustainably.
I recommend everyone read this piece.