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SUMMARY BASED ON THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Ph.D. on the Analysis of Ivory Demand Drivers

A study was commissioned to examine the possible demand drivers of the elephant poaching crisis, and a research paper by Daniel Stiles was published, which is said to have been highly recommended by the Secretary General of CITES.

This summary of the Ph.D. by independent wildlife researcher, Wei Ji, takes a brief look at the belief that speculators, rather than consumers, are driving ivory demand and thus poaching, and how future strategies to reduce demand drivers need to be redirected.

According to the paper, the demand for carvings from 2010-2014 in China was around 9-12 MT per year (made up of 3-4 MT legal and 6-8 MT illegal ivory), whereas the quantity making it to the China-Hong Kong/Japan market since 2008 is on average over 200 MT a year. “This quantity of ivory is highly unlikely to have all been processed illegally to sell to consumers because (1) there is no carver capacity to process that amount and (2) the consumer demand level does not justify it.”

The research “indicates that most of the raw ivory being smuggled out of Africa is to meet a speculative demand by investors, not consumer demand for worked ivory. Poaching is linked to important financial, investment variables. The scale of this speculative demand is difficult to estimate as much of it is cryptic. It is being stored, not displayed in shops.”

The study concludes “that there has been stockpiling of raw ivory for speculative purposes. It is conceivable that more than 1,000 MT of illegal raw ivory remains stored in Chinese warehouses, and additional ivory is probably stored in Africa and in other Asian countries.”

It also ascertains that “investors operating illegally to accumulate smuggled raw ivory in stockpiles are the main cause of the increase in elephant poaching beginning in the 2007-2008 period. However, the motivation of the speculators to stockpile is based on a perception that large numbers of consumers for the foreseeable future will be willing to purchase worked ivory at relatively high prices. Therefore, even though current consumer demand is not the main driver of the elephant poaching, the belief that the demand will persist remains the motive for the speculator stockpiling.

“Demand reduction campaigns aimed at consumers should, therefore, still be an effective strategy for reducing elephant killing. The most effective way to stop speculation is to create the belief that raw ivory prices will not rise in future. Therefore, the primary objectives to address the elephant poaching problem should be to lower both consumer demand and raw ivory prices.”

This means that a different approach to reduce speculative investment and stockpiling is required. If we consider that speculative demand could be the real driving force behind elephant poaching in Africa, as opposed to consumer demand, the authors of this paper believe it is necessary to take a different approach for reduction:

1. At an international level, a regular and limited legal sale of ivory inventory is a must. This will give the market a stable anticipation to substantially lower speculative demand.

2. At a national level, countries – especially those with elephant ranges – should safely keep the ivory inventory, which is a real deterrence to speculators. National agencies should also firmly put an end to any activities that deliberately exaggerate the price of ivory in domestic markets. When the price is exaggerated, it causes a false anticipation, which works in the favour of speculators but is detrimental for the African elephant.

3. At a regional level, countries with connecting habitats should keep each other well informed about population dynamics in order to generate the best scientific data to set quotas.

All of the aforementioned approaches involve taking a different direction to save the African elephant. The funds obtained from regular and limited legal sales should go to communities that live with elephants and bona fide elephant conservation projects in range states. If this can be achieved, it will mean that people from outside and inside Africa are making a joint-effort to conserve elephants.

Read the full research paper here.

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