Fourth annual ivory survey finds demand in China at lowest level since national ban

Posted on April, 12 2021

Fourth annual ivory survey finds demand in China at lowest level since national ban
Beijing, China - WWF, in cooperation with the research organization GlobeScan, has conducted the largest consumer survey about the elephant ivory trade in China – 2,000 people in 15 cities – for four consecutive years. This annual survey is the largest assessment of changes in attitudes to ivory consumption, purchasing rates and intention to purchase, as well as awareness of the Chinese ivory ban over time. The study has found that demand for ivory continues to decrease in China, but that a very small group of persistent buyers retains their desire to purchase ivory.
WWF’s fourth annual survey, Demand under the Ban – China Ivory Consumption Research 2020, found that:
  • Consumers’ intention to purchase ivory in the future, both before and after being reminded about the ivory ban (19% and 8% respectively), continues to drop and is now less than half of pre-ban levels in 2017 (43%, 18%).
  • Self-reported purchase of ivory in the past 12 months decreased to its lowest level in 2020 since the study began in 2017, although gifting is reported to be the most popular reason that people buy ivory.
  • Although people’s awareness of the ivory ban in 2020 declined to its lowest level since 2017, 88 percent of those surveyed believed that the sale of ivory in China is illegal.
  • After remaining relatively stable at 14% of the surveyed population in 2018 and 2019, the proportion of the population defined as Diehard Buyers has decreased significantly to 8% in 2020, less than half of the pre-ban level in 2017, although the remaining “core” Diehard Buyers are even more firm in their resolve to purchase ivory. Among this group, the most compelling driver to purchase ivory is the perception of its artistic value.
  • Regular Overseas Travelers - those who travel outside of Mainland China more than once per year(travel was possible before the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020)-- remain the only group to have increased their rate of purchasing ivory compared to 2017 levels, while having the highest level of both unprompted and prompted awareness of the ban in 2020. They also maintain their future intention to purchase ivory while most other groups’ intention has dropped steadily over years.

Although travel was greatly reduced in 2020 due to COVID-19 related restrictions, Chinese outbound travelers have continuously been identified as the group that most frequently purchased ivory in the past and that has the strongest intention to buy ivory in the future compared with other groups.
Reacting to the results of the study, Dr. Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader said, “We welcome the news that consumer demand for elephant ivory is at its lowest in China since the beginning of the survey four years ago, however, the dogged resolve of a section of ivory buyers, remains a major point of concern in efforts to address the issue at the demand side of the supply chain. We equally call for renewed vigilance, in enforcement, anti-poaching, anti-trafficking, and habitat protection efforts to ensure the recovery and stability of all elephants populations globally.”
WWF has been engaging with the travel industry to target this key demographic with demand reduction efforts. Endorsed by the leading travel agencies in China, the Sustainable Travel Alliance was initiated by WWF and established in September 2020. WWF encourages more corporate actors in the travel and tourism sector, including online and brick and mortar travel agencies and hotels to join the alliance and reject the consumption of ivory and other illegal wildlife products.
“Chinese consumers have been one of the major drivers of the global ivory trade dynamics that contribute to an elephant poaching crisis across the African continent since 2010. Other drivers include loss of habitat and corruption in Africa and weak law enforcement in transit countries especially South East Asia,” said Zhou Fei, Chief Programme Officer, WWF China.
“The Chinese ivory ban is a game-changer that helps in turning the tide against the illegal ivory trade that claims thousands of elephants each year. Partners across many sectors, including China Customs, internet companies and the travel industry, have committed to a Zero Tolerance to Illegal Wildlife Trade Initiative and therefore bolstered consumer engagement efforts.”
In addition to assessing Chinese consumer attitudes and behaviors towards the ivory trade, the WWF survey also assessed the effect of a social media campaign which was launched by WWF in 2020. The campaign, starring Chinese cultural celebrity Ma Weidu, targeted 22 million Diehard Buyers and Regular Overseas Travelers in China. The survey helped confirm that the campaign received the highest recognition among its target audiences, and the combination of information on the ivory ban and the campaign video had a strong deterrent effect on people’s intention to buy ivory in the future. 74% stated that they would be inclined to stop purchasing ivory in the future. 

For more information, please contact:

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Note to editors:
  • This study, conducted by GlobeScan, an international research consultancy, is the largest and longest-running research on China’s ivory consumption, involving 2,000 consumers per year in 15 cities across China in four years. This is the fourth annual survey conducted since 2017.
  • Implementation of this project was made possible with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The number of ivory seizures worldwide averages 92 cases a month, or three per day.
© WWF / Folke Wulf