Success! China Announces End to Ivory Trade in 2017
In an announcement that could prove to be extremely good news for elephants in the wild, the Chinese government has promised to end its domestic ivory market by the end of this year.
Every year, thousands of elephants are killed for their tusks by poachers. Between 2011 and 2014, more than 100,000 elephants were slaughtered. The African elephant population dropped 30 percent from 2007 to 2014. More elephants are being killed than are being born.
A 1989 international ban on the ivory trade has done little to stop the poaching. Why not? Because it doesn’t apply to ivory taken from elephants before the ban was implemented. Poachers can easily lie by saying that the ivory is not new.
China’s announcement is especially significant because it is the largest market for ivory in the world. At least 50 to 70 percent of smuggled ivory ends up there, the New York Times reports.
“Almost all the ivory is for carving,” John Robinson, with the Wildlife Conservation Society, told NPR. “China has had a history of doing so. Whole tusks are carved into elaborately assembled pieces of one kind or another.”
In its Dec. 30 announcement, China’s Office of the State Council said the shutdown, “to combat illegal trade in ivory,” will occur in stages. It will start by phasing out legal ivory processing factories and sellers before March 31. The legal commercial ivory trade is to end completely by December 31.
Although China did officially ban the import of ivory last March, since the country still has a legal domestic market for it, ivory continues to be smuggled into the country, mainly by criminal syndicates.
‘Game Changer for Elephant Conservation’
Many wildlife conservation groups are encouraged by China’s announcement. It’s “a potential game changer for elephant conservation,” stated Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund. He said the ivory trade is now facing its “twilight years” and the U.S. and China bans “will reverberate around the world.”
Elly Pepper, with the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), is also optimistic. She told the New York Times that China’s announcement “may be the biggest sign of hope for elephants since the current poaching crisis began.”
Save the Elephants founder Iain Douglas-Hamilton agreed, telling the Times that China “is moving from being the main problem to the main solution.” He called the announcement “the most astonishing and wonderful piece of news.”
An end to China’s ivory trade was finally set in motion in September 2015, when President Xi Jinping and President Obama agreed that both of their countries would combat wildlife trafficking by taking “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.” The U.S., which was the second-largest market for ivory in the world, imposed a near-total ban on the import and export of these products last year.
Let’s hope China lives up to its promising announcement, and that a prediction by the NRDC’s Pepper comes true. She said China’s ending of its ivory trade could be “the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction.”
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