Can Stigmatizing Ivory Save the Elephants?
Advocacy Strong laws, vigorous enforcement and meaningful penalties will help stigmatize ivory consumption, reduce the ivory trade and ultimately save elephants.
One elephant is killed every 15 minutes for the ivory trade. As a long-living and slow-breeding species, elephants can’t survive this rampant slaughter. To reverse this tragic trajectory, we have to smash every link on the bloody trade chain from poaching to trafficking to demand.
Breaking the mold
The last part of the equation is crucial. If no one wants to buy ivory, then elephants will not be poached. This brings us to China, currently the world’s largest consumer of ivory. Here, the demand for ivory and corresponding price tags have reached an all-time high due to a booming economy, market availability and consumer ignorance.
"We have to smash every link on the bloody trade chain from poaching to trafficking to demand."
Surveys show that 70 percent of Chinese were not aware that elephants die when their ivory is taken. The word “ivory” in Chinese literally translates to “elephant tooth,” making it very easy to believe that their ivory might fall out like human teeth and grow back.
Illuminating the issue
Evaluation shows that public awareness campaigns revealing the brutal origins of ivory reduced the consumer group with the most propensity to purchase ivory by half. NGO campaigns can erase ignorance but cannot eradicate greed. Striking at the heart of wildlife crime requires enhanced laws to remove grey markets where ivory is legal to trade in some cases and illegal in others.
Grey markets not only provide cover for illegal trade, they confuse consumers, who often wrongly take market availability for legality. Ivory markets anywhere are a threat to elephants everywhere.
Taking the stand
Global e-commerce and technology giants Alibaba, Taobao, eBay and Tencent led the way in banning online trade of ivory.
Celebrities, from pop icons to religious leaders, from sports starts to business tycoons, are voicing their concern for elephant survival, motivating a social movement calling for the government to impose a ban on ivory trade to help stop poaching of elephants. Buoyed by the increasing public support for banning ivory trade, the Chinese government destroyed contraband ivory, suspended ivory imports for a year and pledged to halt commercial ivory trade.
Strong laws banning ivory trade combined with vigorous enforcement and meaningful penalties will increase the risk of illegal trade, stigmatize ivory consumption, supporting demand reduction efforts. As a native Chinese I am proud of the collective commitment within China to protect this majestic species. This is the type of momentum we’ve been striving for. All of the progress gives me hope that we can end the ivory trade before it’s too late.