The demand for ivory in China has been one of the principal drivers of the catastrophic decline in elephants across much of Africa. Few areas of the continent have evaded the onslaught, as poachers target the animals for their tusks. But it looks like things might be about to change.
A new report by the conservation group Save the Elephants has found that the wholesale price of elephant tusks has crashed by almost two-thirds in the last three years. While in early 2014 the average price for raw ivory was around $2,100 per kilogram, by late 2015 this had slipped to $1,100 per kilogram. Now, the latest data from early 2017 has found that this figure has fallen even lower, with a kilogram now costing $730.
There are a number of different factors thought to be behind the slump in the market for ivory across China. For starters, the Chinese economy has faltered recently, with the slow down meaning fewer people are now able to afford luxury goods, such as ivory products. This has occurred at the same time that the government has curtailed corruption, meaning businessmen have steered away from using expensive ivory gifts as deal sweeteners.
At the end of last year, the government also announced that it was to shut down the domestic ivory market. The factories in which raw ivory is carved into products are set to close their doors in two days’ time, while the 130 licensed retail outlets are due to close by the end of the year. Finally, in the background to all of this, public awareness campaigns are finally seeming to gain some traction, with people starting to understand the impact that buying ivory has on Africa’s elephants.
“This is a critical period for elephants,” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, president and founder of Save the Elephants, in a statement. “With the end of the legal ivory trade in China, the survival chances for elephants have distinctly improved. We must give credit to China for having done the right thing by closing the ivory trade. There is still a long way to go to end the excessive killing of elephants for ivory, but there is now greater hope for the species.”
As the price has dipped over the last few years, retailers have in turn slashed prices to try and encourage trade. They have also gradually removed ivory items from display windows in shops. Rather than going underground though, it seems that the taste for ivory is slipping, as even the price of mammoth ivory, which is still legal, has also been crashing.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the majestic elephants, after all.