This piece with Leo Carter was published in September 2016 in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:
On Sept. 24, South Africa will open the 2016 CITES meeting — a gathering that could help determine the survival of the world’s remaining elephants, as well as other endangered species.
CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora, banned the international trade in ivory in 1989, but later allowed two one-off sales of ivory to serve demand in Japan and China. CITES hoped these sales would flood the market, decrease prices and make illegal ivory less attractive.
However, the way the Chinese government handled ivory from the 2008 one-off sale had the opposite effect. Ivory prices increased, leading to speculative hoarding, laundering of illegal ivory through the legal market, and greater pressures on elephants.
Elephants are in danger
The Great Elephant Census project recently found that the number of African savanna elephants fell 30 percent in just seven years, with fewer than 400,000 remaining. Central Africa’s forest elephants are in worse shape, with perhaps fewer than 100,000 remaining in the wild.
Demand for ivory is driving the poaching of African elephants. Conservation experts believe as much as 70 percent of global ivory demand comes from China.
Competing proposals at the upcoming CITES meeting would tackle the ivory issue in different ways. Some African countries suggest closing all domestic ivory markets. However, Namibia and Zimbabwe claim their elephant populations are doing well and want to legally trade their ivory.
Whatever the outcome at the CITES conference, a chief problem will be convincing consumers in Asia — especially China — to stop buying ivory.
In recent years, the Chinese government has tried to rein in ivory consumption. In February and October 2015, China issued temporary import bans on carved ivory (for which limited personal imports had remained legal) and on ivory hunting trophies, respectively (imports of private trophies remained legal under CITES). These bans are set to expire by 2020. In September 2015, China also promised to close its domestic ivory market (which has been working through its 2008 stockpile), but the government has not announced further details on the timetable.
How can you convince people not to buy ivory?
Scientist Terry Garcia posed this essential question in a 2015 article. Two years ago, we began a research project to answer this question. In August 2015, we fielded a survey experiment in China with roughly 1,600 respondents.
Our research found that wealthier men were the most likely consumers of ivory. So we carried out a second survey with more than 1,300 men who said they had incomes of over 50,000 renminbi (about $7,500) a year. We surveyed respondents from all over China online with the help of a Chinese survey market research firm. Read more ›