Yao Ming, The Duke of Cambridge, and David Beckham pose for WildAid’s Whole World message: When the buying stops, the killing can too. The Duke of Cambridge will be among dignitaries attending the IWT Conference in London. (Credit: Kristian Schmidt)

This week, all eyes are on London.

Political leaders and heads of state from over 82 countries, as well as members of non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and the business community, will come together for the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Conference in London, where they will help secure commitments to end the illegal wildlife trade, build coalitions, and close markets.

Since the conference was held in Hanoi two years ago, a number of critical gains have been made. Most significant has been the historic closure of China’s ivory market. It is now illegal to buy or sell products made from elephant tusks anywhere in mainland China. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have all announced domestic ivory bans of their own, earning much-deserved accolades. Thailand has implemented much stronger regulations and cracked down on ivory sales.

The end of the global ivory trade is now in sight for the first time in history.  But more action is needed.

Credit: Andrew Wegst

Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime in the world, after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking. It is increasingly run by sophisticated criminal organizations that work at every step of the supply chain, from the threatened animal populations to the final point of sale.

To end wildlife trafficking, world leaders should enact common-sense regulations and strengthen enforcement so that the risks of engaging in illegal activity outweigh the rewards. At the same time, they should support consumer awareness campaigns that help reduce overall demand for products from species like elephants, rhinos, tigers, and pangolins. These two pillars go hand in hand and reinforce each other, and neither will be as effective without the other.

There are signs that a holistic approach with a strong focus on consumer demand reduction works. Just look at ivory in China.

In 2012, WildAid launched its ivory public awareness campaign with Yao Ming in China. By 2016, the general public’s awareness of the elephant poaching crisis and impacts of the ivory trade had increased by over 50% and the price of ivory fell by 65%. Also in 2016, there was an 80% decline in seizures of illegal ivory entering China, reflecting a decrease in trade and demand. Then in 2017, the government banned all domestic ivory trade.

The reduction in consumer demand and an increase in enforcement created a positive feedback loop. In fact, new research released by WWF and TRAFFIC confirms that Chinese respondents’ claims of past ivory purchases have reduced substantially and future intention to buy ivory products dropped by almost half to 26% when compared to early 2017, before the ivory ban took effect.

Of course, no one expected demand to completely dissipate overnight. While the open availability of ivory has ended in China, tourists from mainland China are purchasing ivory on trips to neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Laos. To address this problem, WildAid is working with Chinese Customs, WWF, Save the Elephants, WildAid Ambassador Yao Ming, among others to raise awareness of the ban in second-tier cities, major Chinese international airports, and border crossings, and airports in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos.

No matter the species, sensible regulations that provide critical safeguards for vulnerable and threatened wildlife species, coupled with targeted, culturally sensitive awareness campaigns, can change attitudes and behavior and eliminate this devastating trade.

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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages nearly $230 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

Journalists on deadline may email communications@wildaid.org