The Chinese Illegal Ivory Market: A Pilot Study

23 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2014

See all articles by Brendan Moyle

Brendan Moyle

Massey University - School of Economics and Finance

Kirsten Conrad


Date Written: June 25, 2014


The size, logistical and political constraints of China has made it difficult to research the black-market in ivory. In situ investigations of retailers have been infrequent, with limited coverage. Some of the results are problematic. This motivated the trial of a different survey technique in 2014 in Beijing and Fuzhou. The trial employed local Chinese to identify search costs for illegal ivory in different market segments, using legal ivory as the benchmark. It was hypothesised that high-quality pieces would be much harder to find in the illegal market. Illegal factories lack access to the skilled carvers for these pieces, the registration-card system is hard to overcome, and the legal factories put most of their output into those segments. The results tentatively support this hypothesis. They were corroborated by interviews with law-enforcement which confirmed illegal sellers preferred the low-end of the market. The legal-market in these cities appears to have pushed the illegal market down to the bottom-end. Additionally, the use of search costs as a metric of illegal activity is a useful method for investigating ivory-markets like China.

Keywords: China, ivory, black-market, elephant

JEL Classification: C33, K42, Q28, Q57

Suggested Citation

Moyle, Brendan and Conrad, Kirsten, The Chinese Illegal Ivory Market: A Pilot Study (June 25, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Brendan Moyle (Contact Author)

Massey University - School of Economics and Finance ( email )

Private Bag 11-222
Palmerston North, 30974
New Zealand

Kirsten Conrad

Independent ( email )

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