(IVORY TRADE/POACHING) Since China’s ivory ban went into effect at the end of last year, it seems fewer people are interested in buying it. However, a new survey suggests less than 10 percent of Chinese people actually know about the ban.

So the big question for conservationists is how much of this shift in public opinion can be attributed to the ban.

Read on to learn more about the positive effects of China’s ivory ban as well as it’s impact on the illegal ivory market. — Global Animal

National Geographic, Rachael Bale

China’s ivory trade has now been illegal for nine months, and it appears that fewer people are interested in buying ivory. A new survey of more than 2,000 people in China conducted by GlobeScan, a public opinion research firm, and funded by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), found that 72 percent of respondents would not buy ivory, compared to 50 percent when the poll was conducted last year, before the domestic trade ban went into effect.

China is believed to be the world’s largest illegal ivory market, and until December 31, 2017, it was also the world’s biggest legal ivory market. But as pressure grew as a result of the poaching crisis, with some 30,000 African elephants slaughtered for their ivory each year, President Xi Jinping and then-U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in 2015 that both their countries would implement plans to end legal ivory sales.

“We’ve been saying for years that the China ban would be a game changer. It appears that it is. We’re seeing positive effects,” says WWF’s Jan Vertefeuille, who leads the organization’s ivory work.

In addition to more people in China outright rejecting ivory, fewer Chinese have bought ivory since January 2018. In a survey conducted before the ban, more than a quarter of respondents said they’d bought ivory in the last six months. In the new survey, only 12 percent said they had.

It’s not all good news, though. Since the ban, one group of people has actually become more willing to buy ivory—people who regularly travel overseas. “That’s something we’re planning to do additional research into,” Vertefeuille says, but right now it’s unclear why travelers specifically have higher intent to purchase.

For Chinese travelers, Thailand is one of the most popular overseas destinations where people buy ivory. To combat that, WWF is launching a pilot program next week. October 1 to October 8 is Golden Week in China, a period of holidays that includes the Chinese New Year, and it’s one of the busiest travel times of the year. Using geolocation and social media such as WeChat and Weibo, WWF will send targeted messages to Chinese tourists arriving in Thailand to remind them about the ban and to “travel ivory free.”

Shoppers admire an ivory ornament at a state-owned ivory business in Guangzhou, China, in 2012. This couple bought 15 ivory pieces at a cost of more than $16,000. Photo Credit: Brent Stirton, Getty, National Geographic

CAUSE AND EFFECT

The big question for conservationists and those fighting the illegal wildlife trade is how much of this attitudinal change can be attributed to the ban. The survey suggests that only about 8 percent of Chinese people know about the ban. While that’s double last year’s number before the ban went into effect—it’s still too low, Vertefeuille says.

“We can’t say [the results are] definitively because of the ban because awareness of the ban is fairly low,” Vertefeuille says. “Some of this is increased awareness from consumers. But they’re getting the message somehow, and that’s encouraging.”

Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert in the illegal wildlife trade and organized crime at the Brookings Institution, says an important next step is to dig into that group of people who went from possible ivory buyers in 2017 to definitive ivory rejectors in 2018. “You want to see who are the people who switched their opinions and ask: Was it the ban? Was it the [awareness] ad? Was it ‘my grandmother told me to save the innocent baby elephant?’” she says.

Felbab-Brown has also studied drug trafficking and has examined the effects of bans on certain activities. “Bans do have an effect,” she says. “The question of how strong the effect is depends on individuals, societies, cultures. Are the people who are inclined to buy ivory susceptible to the moral-legal element of obeying laws?”

For a ban to really work, she says, enforcement is critical: “What I would think is a big deterrent is Chinese law enforcement making big busts. Not just once, but a series of raids on traders” as well as punishments for buyers.

Read the full National Geographic article, here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/09/wildlife-watch-news-ivory-demand-reduction-china-ban/

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