China's big New Year's resolution: Ivory trade banned from 2017

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Cape Town - Could 2017 be the year of momentous wildlife conservation decisions?

China has just confirmed it will end the world’s largest ivory market, with key changes to be in place as early as the end of March 2017 and a full domestic ivory sales ban by the end of the new year ahead.

The announcement comes on the eve of 2017, the year marked as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. The Chinese government has released a detailed timetable for ending its legal ivory trade, with the first batch of factories and traders to close their business by 31 March 2017.

'To better protect elephants'

China's state council cabinet said in a statement late Friday, "To better protect elephants and better tackle the illegal trade... China will gradually stop the processing and sale of ivory for commercial purposes" by the end of 2017."

"Before then, law enforcement agencies will continue to clamp down on illegality associated with elephant tusks," the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting a government official as saying.

Last year, China's President Xi Jinping made a public commitment to phasing-out the ivory trade, which may be falling out of favor with Chinese consumers.

A recent survey by the conservation group Save the Elephants reported that ivory prices in eight mainland Chinese cities had fallen by half in a two-year period ending December 2015.

'Greatest single step to reduce elephant poaching'

Anecdotal evidence by WildAid campaigners in China indicates prices may have decreased further this year: Market inquiries in May 2016 found raw ivory prices of around $450 to $900 (about R5 380 to R12 105 at R13.45/$), representing a decrease of 57% to 78% compared with high of $2,100 per kilogram in mainland China in 2014.

A ban was first proposed to the National People’s Congress by former NBA star, Yao Ming, who also led documentaries on ivory trade for state broadcaster CCTV in partnership with WildAid.

WildAid CEO Peter Knights says,“China’s exit from the ivory trade is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants. We thank President Xi for his leadership and congratulate the State Forestry Administration for this timely plan. We will continue to support their efforts through education and persuading consumers not to buy ivory.”

The move comes after Beijing said in March it would widen a ban on imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975, after pressure to restrict a trade that sees thousands of elephants slaughtered every year.

Xinhua says the complete ban would affect "34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues, with dozens to be closed by the end of March 2017".

"This is great news that will shut down the world's largest market for elephant ivory," Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, said in a statement.

"I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction. This is a game changer for Africa's elephants."

'20 000 elephants killed each year'

Conservationists estimate that more than 20 000 elephants were killed for their ivory last year, with similar tolls in previous years. The WWF campaign group says 415 000 of the animals remain.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which took effect in 1975, banned the ivory trade in 1989.

During the recent CITES COP17 held in South Africa at the beginning of October 2016, proposals by Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell ivory to raise funds for conservation failed to be approved. A motion however to move southern African elephant populations to Appendix I to provide them with extra protection also failed.

China permits the resale of ivory bought before the 1989 ban - and also has a stockpile purchased with CITES approval in 2008, which it releases for sale with certification.

Beijing would continue to allow auctions of ivory antiques deemed to have come from legitimate sources, under strict supervision, the government added.

WWF also praised China's move to a complete ban but called on the Chinese territory of Hong Kong to bring forward a plan to end its ivory trade by 2021.

WWF said legal research published by the conservation group shows an ivory ban could be imposed "much sooner under current Hong Kong law".

"With China's market closed, Hong Kong can become a preferred market for traffickers to launder illegal ivory under cover of the legal ivory trade," said Cheryl Lo, senior wildlife crime officer at WWF.

Between 800 and 900 cases of ivory smuggling are uncovered in mainland China each year, according to customs figures. And more than half of legitimate ivory businesses are implicated in the illegal trade.

The United States - the world's second-largest consumer of illegal ivory after China - announced in June a near-total ban on the trade of African elephant ivory but with notable exemptions including antiques.

Ivory carving is an ancient art in China and finely worked pieces, whether elaborate depictions of traditional Buddhist scenes or more simple seals and chopsticks, are considered highly collectible.

With China’s announcement international attention is now shifting to Japan, which voted against all CITES proposals to protect elephants and has insisted its trade is not tainted by illegal ivory. But a recent report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) found that the nation’s elephant tusk registration system widely allows for poached tusks smuggled from Africa to be sold legally in the domestic market.

“Japan is the last man standing as a major legal destination for ivory,” Knights said. “If Japan joined the global community on this we could consign the abuses of the ivory trade to history.”

The international commercial ivory trade was banned in 1989, following a decade of out-of-control poaching that decimated African elephant populations, from 1.3 million in 1979 to an estimated 609 000 by the late 1980s.

As a result of the ban, poaching decreased significantly and ivory prices plummeted. But a "one-off" sale of ivory in 2008 and the legal domestic trade in places such as Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Vietnam and the US have allowed for the laundering of illegal ivory shipments from recently poached elephants.


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A step in the right direction if it really happens. Then you still have the other southeast Asian countries that will need to stop if there is to be a real impact. I have my fingers crossed.


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I thought that they weren't really instituting a ban for a few years... just making a verbal commitment to do so at some point in the future?

I recently watched "The Ivory Game" on Netflix and it gives me little hope that China will ever really do anything to cut down on their illegal ivory market. They've turned a blind eye this long....


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Laws keep law abiding people from doing things they would like to do.

Do laws keep people who don't care about laws from performing an illegal act? (think gun laws in Chicago)

If we believe the press release, (;)), then do we just have a switching in the size of the blue dots below?

As those of us here on AH know, you can't legislate demand. (think USA prohibition of alcohol) The only way to save the elephant is to value the elephant. The elephant will have to pay it's own way. Until the owners of the elephant (landowners/governments) are able to be compensated for their value, the elephant population will continue to decline.

It would be nice if world leaders understood economics 101. Unfortunately, common sense isn't very common.


David Middleton

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Looking at those stats they have gotten so good at moving ivory it glutted their markets!

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