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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

Approximately 35,000 elephants are killed each year to supply the ivory trade. China is the main market for ivory; some 70% of large-scale seizures of illegal ivory involve China. Reducing overall demand for ivory in key markets is seen as a vital step towards eliminating the illegal killing of elephants. How to do so is the subject of much disagreement. A key issue at the nexus of wildlife conservation and human livelihoods is whether a legal trade in ivory is – or could become – beneficial to elephant conservation, natural resource management, and local and national economies. On one side, proponents of bans on all domestic ivory sales argue that the legal trade provides cover for large amounts of illegal ivory to enter the market, undermines law enforcement efforts as all points in the trade chain, and drives demand. On the other, proponents of a legal ivory trade argue that bans restrict supply and thus drive up prices, providing incentives to poachers and traffickers, while simultaneously undermining local peoples’ willingness to share the land with elephants. This Working Group proposes to deliver three main outputs that will be the first comprehensive assessments of: 1) the economic costs and benefits of the current ivory trade situation in China, (i.e., limited legal trade as opposed to a complete ban); 2) the overall cost-benefit ratio of the ivory trade for local livelihoods, ecosystems, and other issues of human security, especially in key African elephant nations where poaching occurs; and 3) the effects of China’s ivory policies on wider China-Africa relations and resulting opportunities for more sustainable Chinese investment in Africa. Through analyses and policy recommendations delivered strategically to Chinese government ministries and international policy forums, this project will ensure that key Chinese stakeholders are provided with a balanced, informed, and comprehensive understanding of what it costs to regulate a legal trade compared to enforcing an outright ban and the wider socio-economic and environmental implications of different policies on ivory that existing analyses typically fail to consider.

Principal Investigator(s)

Aili Kang, Li (Aster) Zhang

Project Dates

Start: January 1, 2015

End: August 1, 2017



Edward B. Barbier
University of Wyoming
Jonathan Barzdo
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Linda Chou
Wildlife Conservation Society, China
Richard Damania
Stiong Diao
Wildlife Conservation Society
Zhanfeng Dong
Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning
Xin Du
Doodod Technology Co. Ltd
Ross Harvey
South African Institute of International Affairs
Simon Hedges
Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia
Rachel Hemingway
Wildlife Conservation Society
Nan Jang
Nanjing Forest Police College
Tong Jin
The Nature Conservancy
Yu Jin
Northeast Forestry University
Aili Kang
Wildlife Conservation Society
Tien M. Lee
Princeton University
Lishu Li
Wildlife Conservation Society
Xianqiang Mao
Beijing Normal University
Tom Milliken
Traffic, The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network
Hongxia Qin
Nanjing Forest Police College
Tianbao Qin
Wu Han University
Xiaohua Sun
The Nature Conservancy China
Timothy Swanson
Eik Swee
University of Melbourne
Xiaoyang Tang
Tsinghua University
Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes
Amin Wang
Wildlife Conservation Society, China
Han Wei
Renmin University of China
Roberton Williams
Resources for the Future
Tim Wittig
Lan Wu
Luodan Xu
Sun Yat-sen University
Li (Aster) Zhang
Beijing Normal University
Wenhao Zhang
Doodod Technology Co. Ltd


  1. Journal Article / 2017

    Speculating a fire sale: Options for Chinese authorities in implementing a domestic ivory trade ban

  2. Presentations / 2016

    Wildlife Demand Reduction Efforts in China seminar

  3. Journal Article / 2016

    Significant and timely ivory trade restrictions in both China and the United States are critical to save elephants

  4. Journal Article / 2015

    China must act decisively to eradicate the ivory trade

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