Consumers in China support upcoming ivory ban, but awareness is low, largest-ever ivory consumer survey finds | WWF

Consumers in China support upcoming ivory ban, but awareness is low, largest-ever ivory consumer survey finds

Posted on 12 December 2017    
© Lucy Vigne
The world’s largest legal ivory market is closing down at the end of this month, meaning that all trade in ivory in China will be illegal from the 1 January 2018. The ban is widely hailed by the international community as a game changer that could help to stop elephant poaching and reverse the decline of African elephant populations.

As the landmark ban on domestic ivory trade comes into effect, TRAFFIC and WWF surveys found that there is widespread support in China; 86% of those surveyed agree with the ban after reading about it and it’s looking promising that the new law will significantly reduce ivory buying. However, the majority of citizens are still unaware of the upcoming ban, making it essential in the coming months for everyone to play their role in spreading the word. 

The research, “Demand under the Ban: China ivory consumption research 2017,” also found that ivory purchasing has dropped in the last three years in major cities like Beijing and Chengdu, where regulations might be stricter and there is more awareness about the upcoming ivory trade ban. But, ivory buying has moved from these metropolitan cities to regional cities in China; this shift in demand can be expected to continue.

 “China has shown great leadership on this urgent issue within a region plagued by illegal wildlife trade activity, which is exacerbated by legal markets. It is a huge step forward and a clear commitment to securing a future for Africa’s elephants.  Yet, it’s clear that the next few months will be absolutely critical for the ban to be effectively enforced and communicated.” Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader said.  “We remain confident that as the doors to the largest legal ivory trade close, we start 2018 a step closer to securing a world where demand for ivory is significantly reduced.”

Recent market surveys from TRAFFIC suggest that many people still have little knowledge about the legality issues around ivory. This means as part of TRAFFIC and WWF’s work, in line with the Chinese government, it will be vital to improve understanding and knowledge about the ivory trade ban.

“By closing its ivory markets, China is showing its commitment to end its role in the poaching epidemic plaguing Africa’s elephants,” said Ginette Hemley, WWF US Senior Vice President and TRAFFIC Board Member. “It is now critical that efforts to enact an ivory trade ban should be accompanied by efforts to change consumer behaviour in order to reduce demand.”

The  survey, conducted by GlobeScan, found that close to 1 in 5 people say they still intend to purchase ivory even after the ban is implemented. However, 62% of these are willing to reconsider their future purchase, suggesting the potential and importance of being able to influence them to change their mind with impactful messages.

“In this context, raising awareness about the law and the consequences of violating the law could provide an important enabling environment for an ivory trade ban in China to influence consumer behaviour,” said Zhou Fei , Head of TRAFFIC China Programme and WWF China Wildlife Trade Programme.

According to  a TRAFFIC report released earlier this year, Revisiting China’s Ivory Markets in 2017, the number of ivory items offered for sale—in both legal and illegal ivory markets in China—has declined alongside falling ivory prices after the announcement of the ban.  “It is gratifying that China’s domestic ivory ban is on track and in place now. It is vital to be vigilant in monitoring its impacts as many challenges remain, such as ensuring stockpiled ivory is prevented from illegally entering markets at home or abroad,” said Zhou Fei.

TRAFFIC and WWF are working to support ivory trade decisions under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which calls for closure of all legal domestic markets for ivory that are contributing to poaching or illegal trade.

“Given the leadership role that China plays across Asia-Pacific, we expect the Chinese ban to set an example and catalyse the closure of ivory markets across Asia,” Zhou Fei said. “TRAFFIC and WWF support ivory trade bans by these countries, especially China’s neighbours, and stand ready to assist in implementation and to help evaluate future impacts of such a ban in China and around the world.” The call comes amid evidence that domestic ivory markets in Viet Nam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Japan, and Myanmar are increasingly catering to visitors from China. The survey also found that those who travel overseas have bought significantly more ivory in the past than those who never travel.

Since 2002, the reports of the Elephant Trade Information System have consistently identified China as the leading destination for ivory consumption globally. China’s actions, more than those of any other country, have the potential to reverse the trend of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trafficking and have a significant impact on the future survival of African elephants.

Read more about WWF and TRAFFIC’s work on the illegal wildlife trade, which includes ivory here

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