Fourth annual ivory survey finds demand in China at lowest level since national ban

Posted on 31 May 2021

In 2020, Chinese consumer demand for elephant ivory dropped to its lowest level since the national ban passed in 2018. However, Thailand remained a ‘top destination’ for those seeking to buy ivory despite a decline in international travel.
            WWF, together with global research company GlobeScan, has carried out the largest consumer survey about the elephant ivory trade in China, with about 2,000 participants from 15 cities. The annual survey has been conducted for four consecutive years following the Chinese government’s ivory ban. It is the largest assessment of changes in attitudes of Chinese people toward ivory consumption, purchase volume, intention to purchase, as well as public awareness of the national ivory ban. This year, the study found that demand for ivory continues to decrease in China, except for a very small group of persistent buyers who still desire to purchase ivory.
            WWF Thailand's CEO, Pimpavadee Phaholyothin, has highlighted that, although the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak has dampened tourism in several countries, including Thailand, “WWF is committed to monitoring ivory markets closely and ending the illegal wildlife trade by travelers which is partially driving the hunting of African elephants for their tusks,” Ms. Phanolyothin said.
            Dr. Margaret Kinnaird, Global Wildlife Practice Leader at WWF, reacted to the results of the study, saying “We welcome the news that consumer demand for elephant ivory is at its lowest in China since the beginning of the survey four years ago, however, the dogged resolve of a section of ivory buyers, remains a major point of concern in efforts to address the issue at the demand side of the supply chain. We equally call for renewed vigilance, in enforcement, anti-poaching, anti-trafficking, and habitat protection efforts to ensure the recovery and stability of all elephants populations globally.”
            Jedsada Taweekan, WWF Thailand’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Program Manager, echoed Dr. Kinnard’s opinion, saying that work still needs to be done if the ivory trade facilitated by Chinese tourists is to be stopped.
            “This year’s survey found that Thailand remains the most popular destination for regular Chinese travelers who say they have purchased ivory products overseas. Even though the pandemic severely impacted international travel in 2020, we must remain vigilant to ensure that Thailand’s reputation as a location to purchase ivory changes and that the trade driven by travelers, halts,” said Mr. Taweekan.
            Although almost three quarters (73%) of surveyed participants believe that all ivory is illegal to bring back to Mainland China, 19 percent still think that it is legal. Not only is it against the law to transport any amount of ivory across international borders, Thailand’s Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act prohibits the trade in ivory from wild elephants or from abroad which carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 1 million Baht.
            To combat illegal wildlife trade, WWF has joined forces with key players in the travel and tourism sector, including the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Tourism Council of Thailand, and Thai Airways International, to reduce the illegal trade that is driven by foreign travellers.
            “Since 2017, WWF has rolled out a Travel Ivory Free campaign in collaboration with key players in the travel and tourism industry in an effort to change traveler attitudes and purchase behaviors,” said Mr. Taweekan. “By expanding our network of partners, we are improving our effectiveness and reach.”
      Key findings of WWF’s fourth annual survey, “Demand Under the Ban – China Ivory Consumption Research 2020”:         
  • Consumers’ intention to purchase ivory in the future, both before and after being reminded of the ivory ban (19% and 8%, respectively), continues to drop and is now less than half of pre-ban levels in 2017 (43% and 18%, respectively).
  • Self-reported purchase of ivory over the past 12 months decreased to its lowest level in 2020 since the study began in 2017, although gifting is reported to be the most popular reason that people buy ivory.
  • 88% of respondents believed that the sale of ivory in China is illegal.
  • Diehard buyers have decreased significantly to 8% in 2020, less than half of the pre-ban level in 2017. Among them, the most compelling reason to purchase ivory products is the perception of its artistic value.
  • Chinese travelers, who went abroad more than once per year (prior to the outbreak of COVID-19) remain the only group to have increased their rate of purchasing ivory, as compared to the 2017 level, while having the highest level of both unprompted and prompted awareness of the 2020 national ban. They also signalled their intention to purchase ivory in the future, whereas other groups’ intention has dropped steadily over the past years.
Note to editors:
About the consumer survey on elephant ivory trade
  • This study, conducted by GlobeScan, an international research consultancy, is the largest and longest-running research on China’s ivory consumption, involving 2,000 consumers in 15 cities across China each year. The survey has been conducted for four consecutive years since 2017.
  • Implementation of this project was made possible with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
African elephant in Kenya.
© / Jeff Vanuga / WWF