Yufang Gao, MESc

2013 TRI Fellow in Kenya, Hong Kong, and mainland China

From Supply to Demand: Diverse Perspectives on the International Ivory Trade.

The population of African elephants is undergoing substantive decline in recent years. The Chinese demand for ivory is widely blamed for the current elephant crisis. My project researches the policy process of this highly contentious issue. I aim to understand how China’s domestic ivory market and the increasing Chinese presence in Africa impact the conservation of African elephants, and how different stakeholders along the trade chain think of these impacts. A special focus is placed on the different problem definitions in terms of goals, trends, drivers, projections, and solutions. Data for this project were collected from various sources such as formal and informal interviews, participant observation, and public written records. During the summer of 2013, I conducted fieldwork in Kenya, Hong Kong and mainland China. My interviewees consisted of leaders of international, national and local conservation groups who are actively participating in the issue, as well as officials of relevant governmental agencies. I participated in various ivory-related education campaigns, attended community meetings and scholar discussions, and visited ivory shops and markets. I talked to many stakeholders including local community members, rangers, tourists, teachers, Chinese road constructions workers, and Chinese businessmen in Kenya; and ivory traders, ivory buyers, businessmen, Buddhists, and others in China.  In addition, I collected a variety of available Chinese and English written records including publications of conservation organizations, official government reports, peer-reviewed and gray literature, over 2500 ivory-related Chinese news articles spanning nearly 10 years, as well as 3001 ivory auction records from 1994 to 2013. Preliminary analysis shows that misinformation and misunderstanding abound. Different players define the problems in different ways, which reflect their different interests. The problem of international ivory trade, as I see it, is that given the uncertainties of facts and the different values, how we can integrate reliable knowledge and diverse perspectives to find consensus on problem definition and establish a decision process which must clarify and secure our common interest.