We revisited the debate about whether the 1999 one-off sale of ivory promoted elephant (Loxodonta africana) poaching in Africa. Complementing earlier work based on ivory seizure data, we considered data on elephant mortality in Zimbabwe and Kenya. Our findings present a mixed picture. At the local level there was some evidence that the one-off sale resulted in extra elephant killing, but this effect was relatively small (and probably short-lived). Although the data were too scanty to draw strong conclusions, decision-making about elephant management and the ivory trade has to continue and will necessarily be based on imperfect information for a long time to come. Our findings suggest that further experimenting with one-off sales may be beneficial from a conservation and development perspective.