Reducing Demand for Ivory: An International Study

Reducing Demand for Ivory: An International Study

The primary objective of this study is to understand the dynamics of demand for ivory. Qualitative and quantitative social research was conducted across five countries in which demand for ivory is known to be concentrated: China, the Philippines, the United States, Vietnam and Thailand.

Through cluster analysis of the resulting quantitative data, consumers in each country were grouped according to their stated interest in purchasing ivory and their self-reported financial ability to do so. Based on this segmentation, five groups were identified. The most important group, labeled “Likely Buyers,” is substantial, representing 22% of consumers surveyed across the five countries. In China and the Philippines, this group encompasses just over one-third of those surveyed. In the three remaining countries, almost 15% of survey respondents are “Likely Buyers.” These individuals, defined as those expressing the strongest intent to buy ivory in the future, are most likely to fuel the demand for ivory consumption.

Using various statistical modeling techniques, the study identifies a series of key motivators of purchase intent; the socio-cultural dynamics that drive demand are shown within the study to be very complex. Likely Buyers tend to describe themselves as fashionable, social and religious. Their purchase decisions are motivated by a desire for products that convey financial and social status. As a result, they are often drawn to ivory because of what ivory ownership suggests to others about them. The most powerful source of intent to buy ivory is its perceived suitability for gifting. Related to this is the feeling of happiness that ivory imparts upon both the giver and receiver as well as the status that ivory projects on both, amplified through gifting.

Despite the complexity of the demand drivers, the research indicates that support for government action to ban or limit the trade in ivory is widespread in all countries surveyed, even among ivory owners and those who express interest in buying ivory.

Three key factors are found to drive increased support for regulation. They are, in descending order, animal rights and the decline in elephant populations; illegality and criminal aspects of the ivory trade; and consumer desire to make ethical purchases generally.

Yet, while support for regulation is high, it is not strongly linked to individual purchase intent in the study results. Thus, increasing support for regulation does not appear to directly result in reduced demand for ivory. Advocacy work focused on threats to elephants may further strengthen support for government action, but this may not significantly alter the embedded social values that fuel demand. Demand reduction efforts will therefore likely require both top-down and bottom-up strategies.

Finally, the study found that nonprofit environmental organizations, scientists/ academics and family and friends are the most trusted sources of information on issues related to ivory. The types of organizations that are currently working to reduce demand and enable regulatory changes are well-positioned for impact.

Full Study by National Geographic