Chinese consumer demand for ivory remains down two years after ban, but worrying trend among travelers grows

Posted on 25 September 2019   |  
Beijing, China – Nearly two years after China imposed a historic ban on domestic ivory trade, consumer demand for elephant ivory appears to be stabilizing at reduced levels and support for the ban remains strong. However, consumers who regularly travel outside mainland China and a group dubbed “diehard buyers” continue to express a strong desire to buy ivory.  
WWF’s third annual survey, Demand under the Ban – China Ivory Consumption Research 2019, found:
  • The percentage of people professing to have purchased ivory in the previous 12 months is at significantly lower levels compared to pre-ban years.
  • Nearly 80 percent of respondents say the ban will stop them from buying ivory in the future.
  • Those who say they intend to buy ivory in the future, after being prompted about the ban, has remained stable since 2018, at 14%. This continuing demand comes from consumers who regularly travel outside mainland China and so-called diehard buyers, those least likely to be swayed from purchasing ivory despite the law or other deterrents.
  • The purchase of ivory in person from vendors in Mainland China has dropped, while buying during travels has increased overall – from 18% in 2018 to 27% of travelers in 2019. Thailand, Hong Kong SAR and Cambodia are the destinations most cited by travelers as the locations they bought ivory products outside Mainland China.
WWF has conducted the largest consumer survey about ivory trade in China – 2,000 people in 15 cities – for three consecutive years, providing the largest assessment available measuring changes in attitudes, purchasing and ban awareness over time. Current demand for ivory appears to have stabilized in China, with some minor fluctuation, following the immediate and dramatic drop after implementation of China’s ban at the end of 2017.
The annual surveys have found that Chinese consumers overwhelmingly support the ban’s intent, though awareness of the specifics of the ban remains low.
Chinese consumers were a driving demographic behind the global ivory trade that led to an elephant poaching crisis across the African continent beginning around 2010. Their help is crucial in turning the tide against the wildlife crime surge that claims the lives of tens of thousands of elephants each year. Most recently, WWF starts to work with Chinese actor Zhu Yilong as WWF Ambassador for Global Wildlife Crime Campaign to call on public to reduce the demand for ivory and other endangered species’ products.
As in the previous year, the 2019 survey found that consumers report they have curtailed their ivory purchasing. Of concern is a persistent desire for ivory observed in certain groups. According to the survey, regular overseas travelers are the only group reporting more ivory purchases in the past 12 months than in pre-ban 2017. In addition, travelers and diehard buyers are the only ones intending to make future ivory purchases at higher rates than 2018, despite being better informed about China’s ivory ban than all other demographic groups.
On the eve of the Oct. 1-7 Golden Week holiday – one of the two busiest travel seasons in China – WWF is again launching a Travel Ivory Free campaign to reach travelers going to Hong Kong SAR, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan, popular destinations with active ivory markets. The campaign integrates targeted social media strategies with on-the-ground outreach activities and travel industry collaboration to deploy messages that persuade against ivory purchases.   
China Customs have distributed a PSA at all the ports of entry and exit throughout China to influence overseas travelers.
After being prompted about the ban, almost half of respondents said they had heard of the ban – a higher number than in 2017 and 2018 -- with online channels like news portals and social media being the dominant sources of awareness.
“China’s domestic ban on ivory is considered a game-changing effort for elephant conservation and conservation groups are working together with government, e-commerce giants, travel and transportation industries, and the public to ensure the ban is successful,” said Zhou Fei, Chief Program Officer of WWF China. “We welcome the recent actions taken by Singapore and Australia to ban domestic ivory trade and encourage more countries, particularly Thailand and Japan, to shut down their markets.”
The study shows that recognition of ivory and elephant protection campaigns has risen from 16% in 2018 to 22% in 2019. Moreover, the Travel Ivory Free campaign was recognized by around 44% of all consumers surveyed. To assess drivers and deterrents of ivory purchase, the survey identified the top reasons for buying ivory were because of the artistic value and uniqueness of ivory, whereas the extinction of elephants, cruelty of poaching, and legal consequences of purchase are still the most reported deterrents of such purchases.
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 in 15 cities across China. This is the third annual survey conducted after the release of 2017 report and 2018 report.
  • Implementation of this project was made possible with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


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