The wholesale price of raw ivory in China has fallen by almost two thirds in the last
three years, according to new research released today. During this time China’s
government has made increasingly strong commitments to close the domestic ivory
trade. In two days time, on 31st March 2017, the nation’s ivory factories are to be shut
down. All retail outlets will be closed by the end of the year.
In early 2014 the average wholesale price of tusks was $2,100 per kg. By late 2015 it
had fallen to $1,100 per kg, and by February 2017 had reached $730 per kg. A new
report by Save the Elephants’ consultants Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin, Decline in the
Legal Ivory Trade in China in Anticipation of a Ban, details a decline in the retail market
up to the end of 2015; an update of wholesale prices was conducted in January 2017.
“Findings from 2015 and 2016 in China have shown that the legal ivory trade especially
has been severely diminished,” said Lucy Vigne. The 130 licensed outlets in China have
been gradually reducing the quantity of ivory items on display for sale, and recently
have been cutting prices to improve sales.
There are several driving factors behind the decline in the wholesale price of raw ivory
in China observed from early 2014 to early 2017. An economic slowdown has resulted
in fewer people able to afford luxury goods; a crack-down on corruption is dissuading
business people from buying expensive ivory items as ‘favours’ for government officials,
and the Chinese government has made strong commitments to close down the nation’s
legal ivory trade. Meanwhile public awareness campaigns have exposed many potential
buyers to the impact that buying ivory has on Africa’s elephants.
The researchers visited Beijing and Shanghai, as well as six cities whose markets had
never been surveyed before: Changzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenyang, Suzhou and
Tianjin. In these cities, small jewellery items were a top seller in the ivory retail shops,
with pendants being the most common item and large tusks and figures found only in
licensed outlets where legal master carvers operate.
In Beijing by 2015, some of the main licensed retail ivory outlets were either closed at
the time of the researchers’ visit due to slow sales, or vendors were replacing elephant
ivory displays with mammoth ivory. By 2016, prices for ivory items were in decline,
with vendors trying to offload their stocks.
There are now 34 licensed factories that carve ivory in China, down from 37. All will
officially be closed on 31st March 2017, in keeping with China’s recent government
“Law enforcement is key to success,” said researcher Lucy Vigne. “This is already
improving in China – we have seen a decline in the number of illegal ivory items on
display for sale since 2013.”
China remains the largest importer and end user of elephant ivory tusks in the world, as
confirmed by data from the Elephant Trade Information System and other sources. The
legal trade will end this year, but the impact of China’s ban will be determined by their
ability to enforce the new rules and prevent illegal trade. In earlier monographs on the
ivory trade in Hong Kong (2015), and Vietnam (2016), the researchers found that over
75% of the buyers were mainland Chinese tourists smuggling ivory back home.
On mammoth ivory, dug out of the Russian tundra, mainland China continues to
dominate as the largest importer and consumer, although some carved mammoth ivory
is exported mainly to Europe and the US. As with elephant ivory, the wholesale price of
mammoth ivory in China experienced a drop, falling from $1,900 per kg in 2014 to
$1,400 per kg in 2015. “The latest figure we have received since publishing this report
suggests that this price has also dropped to $730 a kilo,” said researcher Esmond
There has been increased awareness about the plight of elephants with the growing
coalition of NGOs and scientists working with the international media, drumming up
high level political support.
“This is a critical period for elephants,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, President and
Founder of Save the Elephants. “With the end of the legal ivory trade in China, the
survival chances for elephants have distinctly improved. We must give credit to China
for having done the right thing by closing the ivory trade. There is still a long way to go
to end the excessive killing of elephants for ivory, but there is now greater hope for the
Selected statistics from the report:
• By November 2015 the wholesale price of raw ivory was $1,100 per kg, from
$2,100 per kg in early 2014. New updates following the report publication show
that this price in February 2017 had fallen to $730 per kg.
• The number of licensed ivory factories reduced from 37 to 34 in 2015, while the
number of licensed retail outlets went from 145 to 130.
• The authors visited six new cities and found 141 illegal outlets displaying for
retail sale 1,060 illegal ivory items, mostly new. There were also 18 licensed
outlets selling 2,318 recently carved ivory items with official identification cards.
• The most common ivory item on sale was a pendant, while the most expensive
seen was a 38 layered magic ball selling for $248,810 in Nanjing.
• All those involved in the domestic legal ivory trade in China were pessimistic
about their future. Some vendors were replacing elephant ivory items with more
objects made of alternative materials, such as mammoth ivory and clam shell.
Download PDF version of the report
For more information:
Esmond Martin, ivory researcher:
+254 712 504 191
Lucy Vigne, ivory researcher:
+254 722 411 037 [email protected]
Resson Kantai-Duff, Save the Elephants:
+254 701 353 356 [email protected]
About Save the Elephants (www.savetheelephants.org)
Save the Elephants works to secure a future for elephants in Africa. Specializing in
elephant research, STE provides scientific insights into elephant behaviour, intelligence,
and long-distance movements and applies them to the challenges of elephant survival.
Through our thriving education and outreach programmes, we reach out to hearts and
minds, making local people the true custodians of their own rich heritage. Our humanelephant
conflict mitigation projects, especially beehive fences, have reduced the
number of crop-raiding incidents, and provide farmers with elephant-friendly
alternative sources of income. To battle the current surge in ivory poaching, our
Elephant Crisis Fund is identifying and supporting the most effective partners in Africa
and in the ivory consuming nations to stop poaching, thwart traffickers and end
demand for ivory.