Elephant ivory trade in China: Trends and drivers
Yufang Gao & Susan G. Clark
December, 2014

Poaching of African elephants is threatening the species viability. International non-governmental organizations and media often attribute the basic problem to China’s domestic ivory market. This report presents quantitative and qualitative information on trends and drivers of the ivory trade in China.

Results show that ivory is traded in “white” legally licensed retail outlets, “black” illegal shops and online trade forums, and “gray” live auctions of uncertain legality. White markets are primarily in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. The numbers of legal factories and retail outlets increased from 9 and 31 in 2004 to 37 and 145 in 2013. Black markets thrive in online trading platforms, such as Baidu Post Bar. Gray markets auction ivory items surging around 2006, mushrooming after 2009, peaking in 2011, and plummeting by over 97% following government intervention.

During 2002 to 2011, the ivory auctions in China and elephant poaching in Africa can be strongly correlated.

Drivers of the ivory trade are multiple and complex, including Chinese consumers’ motivation stemming from the socially-constructed economic, social, cultural, aesthetic, religious, and medical values of ivory.

This report highlight China’s intangible cultural heritage preservation, the boom of arts investment, and the auction ban in changing ivory values and influencing markets. It argues that elephant conservation can be more effective if it is based on a more comprehensive and contextual understanding of China’s domestic ivory trade.

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