Campaigning in Asia to reduce demand for ivory – will it work?

Demand reduction is one of the main tools that NGOs are banking on to save wildlife from being poached to extinction. Even Prince Charles added his voice last month saying reducing demand in the key to solving the problem. Last week, a group of wildlife NGOs including African Wildlife Fund launched a campaign in China to reduce demand for ivory.

The campaign fronted by former NBA basketball star Yao Ming includes televised “anti-ivory public service campaign” 2014 to highlight the problem caused by ivory consumption and a webpage where the “public can upload photos, pledge not to buy ivory, and show their support for wildlife conservation”.

Whilst noble in its intention, the campaign sounds like a drop in the ocean. Tens of thousands of Chinese and Vietnamese are entering the ranks of the middle class every month and many of them presumably aspire to owning ivory. What would it take to persuade them otherwise? According to Stan Gunn, head of Vietnam’s largest media company, a “well structured” (but not necessarily effective) campaign against the use of horn would cost around US$50 million.

Supporters of the NGOs may want to ask how the organizations will measure the success of their campaign. Will a successful campaign mean a fall in demand for the product? Metrics for success are the tools to enable us to judge is demand reduction campaigns are effective policies. What is the evidence from the prohibition of drugs that demand reduction campaigns work?

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