Did the one off ivory sale cause demand to increase?

One of the key arguments used by conservation and animal welfare groups against the legal trade in ivory is that the one off sale of ivory “stimulated” demand.

A blog this week by Fiona Underwood, an applied statistician at Reading University explains how these two events (the sale and rise in demand for ivory) are not necessarily related and assessing the degree of cause and effect is a “non-trivial” problem. Her post illustrates that policy is not always based on evidence – conservation appears to be no exception.

She asks

Does destroying ivory stockpiles lead to a decline or an increase in the illegal ivory trade? Have the two highly regulated sales of ivory – the first to Japan in 2000 and the second to Japan and China in 2008 – had an impact on the illegal ivory trade?

Answering this question…

“is not by any means, a trivial exercise. It requires the cooperation of many different groups who understand different aspects of the trade – ecology, criminology, economics – and working with those who know how to combine, evaluate and assess data. It is particularly non-trivial because we are talking about an illicit and therefore mainly unobservable trade that operates on an international scale. This makes it challenging (but not necessarily impossible) to disentangle the effect of different interventions because we can’t watch it unfold in many different places independently from each other – it is all mixed up together”.

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