Slaughter fuelled by Chinese demand for ivory
The biggest consumer of ivory by far is China, which accounts for 70% of the world’s illegal ivory. Elephants are being butchered for no better reason than to satisfy the consumer demand of China’s rising middle classes for useless ivory trinkets.
From 2008, the influx of ivory into China reinvigorated the government-approved ivory carving industry, which had been waning since the 1989 ban was established.
Ivory carving factory in China.
Every person needs to ask: how can the crass desire for ivory trinkets justify the scale of suffering involved in producing them? How can it justify the ruthless annihilation of a species – of the greatest land animals on earth?
The need to educate
It is often heard that part of the problem is that many Chinese are unaware that elephants have to be killed for their tusks. The Chinese word for ivory, xiangya, literally means elephant’s teeth, which has contributed to the widespread misconception that ivory can be obtained without killing elephants.
In a 2007 survey, the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) found that 70% of Chinese polled did not know that ivory came from dead elephants. This led to the organization’s first ad campaign which explained the actual origins of ivory. The subsequent evaluation of the campaign, which was seen by 75% of China’s urban population, found that it strongly influenced their views on ivory: among people classified as those likeliest to buy ivory, the proportion who would actually buy it after seeing the ad was slashed by almost half.
This dramatic result shows how critical it is to educate Chinese people about the origins of ivory. And when famous people get behind the education campaign, the message will impact on people’s views all the more; in this short video, China’s famous basketball star Yao Ming, an outspoken supporter of elephants and wildlife conservation, “blocks a bullet to the wildlife trade”.
But changing people’s attitudes takes time, and elephants simply don’t have that time. The one thing – the ONLY thing – that could drastically reduce poaching immediately is for the Chinese premier to issue a total ban on all ivory products – this would break the cycle of demand and supply and in one move give elephants a chance to recover and survive.
In January 2014 the Chinese publicly destroyed 6 tonnes of ivory. This move was hailed by the international community as a step in the right direction by China and hopefully a sign of stronger measures to come.