Reducing demand for ivory in China : a qualitative & quantitative study




Carter, Leo Bini

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Over the past decade, the world has seen a precipitous decline in elephant populations largely due to poaching spurred by resurgent demand, growing incomes in Asia, and enforcement shortfalls in elephant range states. Demand for ivory, though the subject of many studies and the target of numerous public awareness campaigns across Asia, remains poorly understood. Public education campaigns have had substantial success educating the public of the negative impacts of ivory consumption, but little is yet understood about which messaging works best to modify consumption behavior. The end goal of all these efforts is reducing ivory consumption, but how are policymakers to know which campaigns are truly effective and which may be counter productive? This study attempts to shed some light on this issue.

At the root of demand for ivory are a number of structural and normative problems. At the structural level, outdated laws and inconsistent policy implementation at the multiple levels of Chinese government make environmental campaigns difficult to implement. Issues of corruption, interference from private interests, and state-led promotion of cultural heritage industries compound these problems. At the normative level, attitudes towards wildlife conservation and conscientious consumption are new in China. The determinants of demand, often rooted in deeply held personal beliefs, vary across demographic groups and between individuals. Campaigns must be designed with the Chinese consumers and their unique cultural values in mind and be targeted to individual subgroups in order to maximize efficacy. Shifting norms is a slow process and must also be bolstered by consistent government enforcement.

This report proceeds in three sections. The first introduces the global trade in ivory, what is known about demand for ivory in China and consumer groups, and what still remains to be discovered, which is the inspiration for this report. The second section discusses the structural obstacles to demand reduction, with a specific eye to the Chinese political and social context. It covers relevant domestic legislation, the role of civil society in forwarding conservation goals, and the efforts and successes thus far in the fight against ivory trafficking. Part three presents the results of an online experimental survey that tested how potential ivory consumers react to different conservation messaging and how that messaging modifies subsequent answers to questions about ivory consumption and incentivizes political action on conservation issues. The results of the survey show that receiving conservation-related messaging is effective in manipulating subjects responses to questions regarding attitudes towards ivory, both at the policy level and at the level of individual consumption behavior.


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