On Monday, China took a huge public stand against elephant poaching by crushing over six tons of the ivory it has confiscated in a landmark ceremony held in the city of Guangzhou.
The event marks the first time the country has destroyed any of its ivory stock and is being applauded by conservationists, government agencies and environmental protection organizations around the world for raising awareness about the poaching crisis and sending a message to the public that the illegal trade in ivory will not be tolerated.
“This is a courageous and critical first step by China to elevate the important issue of wildlife trafficking and elephant poaching among its citizens and around the world,” said Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation. “As the largest market for ivory in the world, China has a very important role to play in helping end the elephant slaughter in Africa. The Chinese government is to be commended for taking the issue seriously.”
International trade in ivory has been banned since 1989, but the growing demand from Asian countries has led to dangerously high levels of poaching that continue to threaten elephant populations. According to the latest figures from the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which were released last month, an estimated 22,000 elephants were illegally killed throughout the continent in 2012; the numbers for 2013 aren’t expected to be much better.
By some estimates, these gentle giants could disappear from the landscape entirely in a decade if drastic measures aren’t taken to stop the slaughter, trafficking and demand.
The reality of the situation and the devastating impact poaching is having on elephants and communities has led to stronger stances against wildlife trafficking around the world. The situation has also brought many partnerships together in the past year to address this crisis and crack down on the multi-billion dollar black market for ivory, including the Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants, a new Commitment to Action announced by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in October and new measures to address the entire trade chain announced at the African Elephant Summit in December.
Many have argued that destroying stockpiles of ivory is wasteful and that the ivory should be sold instead in an effort to flood the market and keep more elephants from being killed, but conservationists believe that having legalized ivory on the market would help stimulate the demand and the perception that ivory is an ethically sourced product when it’s anything but.
Some also believe the two government sales held in 1999 and 2008 have contributed to the problem and led to surges in poaching by creating confusion and allowing criminals to sneak illegal ivory into the market. In the end any transaction that puts money in someone’s hands for ivory puts elephants in danger and keeps this violent market going.
China’s ivory crushing event follows similar ones that have taken place in the Philippines, Kenya and Gabon, in addition to the U.S. In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service crushed nearly 6 tons of tusks and trinkets in Colorado that had previously been seized, and France reportedly has plans to destroy stocks in February.
Collectively, countries that are destroying their stockpiles are sending a strong message to the world that the desire for ivory is fueling a sickening trade that has to be stopped.
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