Beijing, China - New statistics released today by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC revealed that China’s ivory trade ban has had positive effects since coming into force at the beginning of 2018, but further action is needed to influence key segments of society.
Among 2,000 Chinese consumers surveyed, those who reported past purchase of and future intention to buy ivory products have dropped substantially since the ivory trade ban was implemented. All pre-ban legal ivory shops visited by TRAFFIC in 2018 have stopped ivory sales, and the magnitude of illegal ivory trade in most of the cities and online platforms surveyed has decreased. However, ivory trafficking hotspots remain, including along the border with neighboring Vietnam.
Another point of concern is the low level of awareness of respondents when asked about the ivory ban. While spontaneous (unprompted) awareness of the ban has doubled since the law changed – from 4 percent to 8 percent of those surveyed -- further amplification of messaging is needed to increase public awareness. General support for the ivory ban remains high, with 9 out of 10 respondents expressing their agreement and support of the ban once made aware of it.
Two reports, China’s Ivory Market after the Ivory Trade Ban in 2018 from TRAFFIC and Demand under the Ban - China Ivory Consumption Research Post-Ban 2018 conducted by independent consultancy GlobeScan and commissioned by TRAFFIC and WWF, provide the first analysis of trends in supply and demand for ivory products in China’s markets since the new legislative changes. The results were generally positive. The reports were released shortly before world leaders gather at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade to continue to mobilize global efforts to address the poaching crisis devastating elephant, rhino and other endangered species populations.
In 2018, TRAFFIC visited 157 markets in 23 cities and found 2,812 ivory products in 345 stores. Compared to a similar 2017 report, the number of stores with ivory for sale decreased by 30 percent, though remains high given that trade is now banned. More than half the ivory products found for sale were concentrated in five provincial cities: Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Dongxing and Pingxiang.
Online illegal ivory trade appears to also be declining. The average number of new ivory advertisements decreased by 26.6 percent on websites and 10.6 percent on social media platforms, from pre- to post-ban.
According to China Ivory Consumption Research Post-Ban 2018, 14 percent of respondents claim to have purchased ivory in the past 12 months. This is a significant drop from the 31 percent of respondents who reported doing so in a similar 2017 pre-ban survey.
“We are encouraged by the decline in both trade and consumer demand since the ban went into effect, but there’s still work needed to address the persistent demand and lack of awareness among consumers in some parts of the country,” said Jan Vertefeuille, who oversees WWF’s ivory work. “And particularly concerning is the finding that people who regularly travel outside mainland China have actually shown an increase in intent to buy ivory this year. As a result, WWF is scaling up our work with consumers and with the travel industry to address this demand.”
The study found that 18 percent of regular outbound travelers bought ivory products on trips abroad, with Thailand and Hong Kong being the top two markets. Making Chinese travelers aware of the ban and alternative souvenirs to ivory is critical to ensure positive demand reduction results continue and carry over into long-term benefits for wild elephant populations.
WWF today launched a Travel Ivory Free campaign to reach Chinese travelers to Thailand during Golden Week, an annual period of holidays from October 1-8. The campaign will engage travelers in Thailand through geolocated digital messages about the ban, alternative souvenir options and elephant conservation while they are visiting known ivory markets. Working with key opinion leaders and the travel industry, the campaign will help NGOs determine what messages resonate most with this persistent consumer segment.
"Closure of the legal ivory market is a critical tool for Chinese government efforts and sets a benchmark for other countries and regions where domestic ivory markets remain active. Only a united global effort will achieve the goal of stamping out ivory trafficking for the benefit of elephant conservation,” said Xu Ling, overall coordinator of these research efforts in China.
Faced with the worst elephant poaching crisis in three decades, countries and territories with major ivory markets such as China, Hong Kong SAR, and the US have introduced plans that are being implemented at different stages to phase out domestic ivory trade; while other countries like the UK are proposing stricter measures to curtail domestic illegal ivory trade. However, implementation and enforcement of existing regulations remains key to this global effort, combined with shifting consumer behavior and social norms that encourage ivory consumption as a luxury item which conveys wealth and status.