A new study revealed illegal ivory in China is now just half the price it was 18 months ago, which conservationists attributed to the country’s effective anti-poaching campaign.
Experts pointed to increasing public awareness about the plight of elephants, including a vow from President Xi Jinping to ban the ivory trade and pleas from popular Chinese celebrities.A crackdown on corrupt officials and a slowing economy was also credited for the drop in ivory prices.
As China has grown wealthier, the value of ivory has skyrocketed, reaching an average price of $2,100 per kilogram in 2014. But a study from conservation group, Save the Elephants, said ivory is now about $1,100 per kilogram.
Ivory taken from endangered elephants was once one of the world’s most valuable illicit goods, commanding a price comparable to its weight in gold or diamonds. The Chinese black market has historically been one of the world’s largest consumers of ivory, where it’s used in traditional medicine and for carving decorative trinkets.
However, the study provides hope that China’s views on ivory are rapidly evolving, driven in largely by campaigns from conservation and animal welfare groups. The Chinese state media has also called on citizens to take a stance against ivory, a publicity campaign that’s been supported by basketball star Yao Ming, British soccer player David Beckham, and Prince William, among others.
An IFAW survey revealed that the proportion of people who intended to buy ivory had dropped from seven percent in 2014 to just one percent in 2015. Meanwhile, a WildAid study shows China has become more aware of elephant poaching, with 71 percent believing it to be a problem in 2014, up from 47 percent in 2012.
China has also increasingly targeted officials who were among the largest consumers of ivory. Carved elephant tusks were once popular gifts and status symbols for the rich and powerful, but changing attitudes seem to have reduced the demand.
Conservationists reacted with cautious optimism to the news. While the reduced demand for ivory presumably makes elephants less of a target, Africa still struggles to halt the poaching of tens of thousands of elephants each year.
“I am hugely encouraged by this, but I am also very wary because I know how these things can drift with the pendulum of concern,” conservationist Iain Douglas-Hamilton told the Washington Post. “What we are seeing by and large is that the uncontrolled killing of elephants is continuing in most of Africa, although there are some bright spots.”
Hamilton said he is still waiting on Xi to fulfill his pledge to make ivory illegal. The Chinese president promise to ban ivory in June. While no firm date has been set, In October, a senior U.S. government wildlife official said China’s official plan should implemented within a year.
WildAid CEO also applauded the news, but cautioned that elephants are still far from safe. “The halving of ivory prices in China is a vital first step in ending Africa’s ivory crisis,” said Knights. “Though there is much work to be done, this is good news for Africa’s elephants, and the Chinese government should be credited for this progress. There’s light at the end of the tunnel for elephants, instead of extinction.”