“We didn’t see a single person buying,” said Lucy Vigne, who spent weeks tracking the ivory trade with fellow researcher Esmond Martin in stores throughout China.

About every 15 minutes, an African elephant is killed to supply the illegal ivory industry. But demand is dropping fast, particularly in China, due to growing awareness about the elephant poaching crisis and better international cooperation against traffickers.

Chinese customs officers guard confiscated ivory in southern Guangdong province. The U.S. and China are cooperating to restrict the illegal ivory trade. (© AP Images)

Rows of carved ivory figurines are being replaced with other merchandise in Shanghai shops, according to the researchers from Save the Elephants, as wealthy buyers turn away from objects made from elephant tusks. As a result of decreased demand, Vigne and Martin found that the price of ivory in China has dropped by half.

Several factors made 2015 a big year for elephants:

  • When President Xi Jinping visited the U.S. in September, he and President Obama announced a near complete ban on the ivory trade. Both also pledged to work together with other nations to combat wildlife trafficking.
  • In the U.S., government agencies, private groups and tech giants such as Facebook, Google and eBay banded together to stop the sale of illegal ivory as part of the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance.
  • People in more than 130 cities around the world, including Hong Kong, Nairobi and Washington, participated in October’s Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. According to experts, these marches keep political pressure on leaders to protect the world’s largest land animal.

Will the decreased demand for elephant ivory help bring elephants back from the brink of extinction?

“The fall in the price of ivory gives us hope, but with numbers of elephants still being killed in Africa, we’re a long way from celebrating yet,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. “Grave threats remain, and it’s vital that the complete ban in China is enforced soon.”