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China’s Ivory Ban Has Played a Significant Role in De-Valuing Ivory

By Aili Kang

On December 30, 2016, the Chinese government announced that it would close its domestic commercial elephant ivory trade in 2017, in essence shutting down the world’s largest market for elephant ivory.

As the government rolls out the closing of the market, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) is observing hopeful results as in the Save the Elephants report issued this week. We believe that the ban has played a significant role in de-valuing ivory. We also believe that the ban has increased motivation for enforcement agencies to enhance actions on illegal ivory trade.

Photo by Charles Foley/WCS.
Photo by Charles Foley/WCS.

WCS monitoring of legal ivory trade in Guangzhou and illegal trade through social media indicates the price has been decreasing since November 2015.

Our monitoring of legal ivory trade in Guangzhou and illegal trade through social media indicates the price has been decreasing since November 2015.

We observed a big range of price with median at $2,238/kg in March 2017 for less-worked products, while it was $3,059/kg in late spring of 2016. We think the median price is better than average price to present the market status due to variance in negotiating skills, quality of the carving, and ivory among different sites.

Due to the features of illegal trade, our data has its limitation and may not cover the full picture. We have focused on the market in Guangzhou City in Guangdong Province as it is at the core of the wildlife trade crisis in China.

Guangzhou has the largest consumption markets for wildlife as food and traditional medicine;  is a traditional center of ivory carving (along with Beijing, Shanghai); and it is the busiest port in the south of China to connect the world, with frequent direct flights to Africa and Southeast Asia.

Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.
Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.

Legal shops have showed different strategies in response to the policy change but since August 2016 around half of the legal shops surveyed have offered various discounted prices. Shops surveyors visited early this year commented that it was the best time to buy ivory as the government is shutting them down.

It is important to pay attention to the possible loophole in the ban of “auction of culture relics” and how that will be managed. And how the government will manage the ivory stockpiles in traders’ hands after the shops are closed. Will an inventory be conducted and regular inspection be taken to ensure no leaking?

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Dr. Aili Kang is Executive Director of the Asia Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).