We are working in China to reduce both market supply and consumer demand for elephant ivory.
In 2007, an international decision allowed four African countries to sell 108 tons of stockpiled ivory to Japan and China. Then, in 2008, China legalized the ivory market. After that, tens of millions rushed to buy the “white gold” and elevate their status.
Now, ivory trafficking in China comes with low risks and high profits. It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between poached tusks and legal tusks. But with ivory prices tripling, purchasing power has never been stronger. Ultimately, the legalized market fueled the poaching of more than 100,000 African elephants from 2010 to 2012.
But the want for ivory in China started a long time ago. For generations, owning ivory carvings has symbolized wealth. And many didn’t even know the harm it was doing. An IFAW survey found seven out of 10 Chinese didn’t know ivory came from dead elephants. In Chinese, tusk is “elephant teeth.” People assumed elephants don’t die when they “shed their teeth.” Still, the Asian demand for ivory kills tens of thousands of African elephants every year. In fact, over the past five decades, the population has gone from 1.3 million to just 400,000.
We are working to break every link in the trade chain, from poaching to trafficking to demand.
In China, we started with demand. We launched the “Mom, I Have Teeth” campaign to explain the relationship between ivory trade and elephant poaching. The message resonated with the Chinese public, so much so it was adopted into the College Entrance Exam as a language test, reaching 9 million college applicants.
Since then, 16 social influencers, including pop icon Chris Lee, actress Wang Luodan, antique show host Zhai Jianmin, musician Xiao Ke, real estate developer Wang Shi, and artist Yuan Xikun have joined our campaign.
But we can’t just change minds, we also need to changes laws and transform the marketplace. So, we monitor wildlife markets online and offline. And we share intelligence with law enforcement agencies that leads to market crackdowns and criminal prosecution.
We also work with tech companies. In 2007, Alibaba and its Chinese subsidiary Taobao banned ivory trade online. Through the landmark initiative Tencent for the Planet, launched in 2015, China’s social media giant removed over one million infringing listings of endangered species, closed over 3,500 WeChat accounts, and provided over 80 significant cases to law enforcement agencies for further investigation.
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