Link Between Ivory Price Drop and China’s Trade Ban Questioned

By Michael Schwartz

The conservation organization Save the Elephant’s recent claim of a strong association between the sharp decline in raw ivory prices and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s September pledge to close China’s domestic ivory markets may be inaccurate, says Daniel Stiles, a conservationist and veteran ivory researcher based in Kenya.

According to Stiles, Save the Elephants’ founder and CEO Iain Douglas-Hamilton commissioned a study on the price of ivory in order to verify the findings of an earlier study funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WSC) and led by Stiles.

The WCS study, “An Analysis of Ivory Demand Drivers,” by Stiles and coauthors Rowan Martin, Brendan Moyle, and Wei Ji, has not yet been published, but a draft version was previously available. (The full report by Save the Elephants, led by researchers Esmond Martin and Lucy Vigne, also hasn’t yet been published.)

Stiles notes that his team’s findings of drastically reduced prices of raw ivory occurred well before China made the announcement that it would close domestic markets.

“[Save the Elephants] knew that prices had fallen by more than half in May, because I told Esmond Martin the results of [the WCS] study,” Stiles says.

“We found that black market prices in May had crashed to $442 per pound ($973 per kilogram). I even sent him a copy of the report for his comments. So to say that the price drop occurred in November partly as the result of the Chinese government’s pledge to ban ivory trade is disingenuous.”

According to the WCS study, raw ivory prices rose from 2008 to 2012, primarily because Chinese investors “shifted from stocks and property to commodities,” coinciding with the global financial crisis.

It wasn’t until 2013 that the price of ivory began to fall, which also coincided with Chinese investors getting out of commodities as economic conditions improved.

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