For decades, China’s domestic ivory market has been one of the largest remaining in the world. Now, in a groundbreaking move, the Chinese government has announced that it will ban all ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017.
The international ivory trade was banned in 1989, but domestic markets around the world have continued to make poaching and illegal trade to continue presenting a major threat to the survival of elephants around the world. For many still seeking ivory despite the damage it does to dwindling elephant populations, China has been the best place to look, with about 70 percent of the world’s ivory trade taking place within its border, the BBC reports.
But now, according to China’s State Council, starting March 31, 2017, waves of commercial processing and sales of ivory will begin to be shut down until a complete legal ivory trade ban is established, effective December 31, 2017, Reuters reports.
China has taken steps in recent years to shut down its domestic ivory trade, but that has mainly been limited to vague resolutions without specific timeframes. Not only does today’s announcement represent a big step forward for the country, but the pledge to ban the ivory trade within a year has come as a much-welcome surprise for conservation groups around the world, Timothy Cama writes for The Hill.
“China has shown great leadership in the fight to save African elephants. Setting such an aggressive timeline to close—once and for all—the largest domestic ivory market in the world is globally significant,” Elly Pepper, deputy director of wildlife trade for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says in a statement. “It’s a game changer and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction. Now, other countries, including the UK, must follow China’s lead and close their ivory markets.”
China’s announcement comes at a major turning point for the giant mammals. According to groups like the Great Elephant Census, the last seven years have seen a surge in elephant deaths due to poaching. As a result, elephant populations across Africa dropped by about 33 percent, putting the giant mammals in serious jeopardy, the BBC reports.
“No one, and I repeat, no one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death—the death of our elephants and the death of our natural heritage,” Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta said earlier this year as officials incinerated hundreds of millions of dollars of elephant ivory.
While the world's elephant population is still at risk, shuttering the world’s largest legal ivory market promises to have a big impact in the fight to save these gentle giants.