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China Imposes One-Year Ban on Ivory Imports Following Mounting Criticism

Wildlife advocates hopeful, but say more needs to be done to save African elephants from being poached to extinction

A bit of positive news to end this week with: Yesterday, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports. From the Associated Press:

"The State Administration of Forestry declared the ban in a public notice posted on its official site, in which it said the administration would not handle any import request.

"In an explanatory news report, an unnamed forestry official told the state-run Legal Evening News that authorities hope the ban would be a concrete step to reduce the demand for African tusks and to protect wild elephants. The official said the temporary ban would allow authorities to evaluate its effect on elephant protection before they can take further, more effective steps."

a herd of African elephantsPhoto by Steve GarvieThe elephant population in Africa has fallen 65 percent since 1980, from 1.2 million to 420,000 in 2012.If the killings continue at this rate, scientists predict that African elephants may become extinct in much of their range in as little as 10 years.

The ban, which went into immediate effect, seems to be in response to mounting criticism from the global community that increasing Chinese demand for ivory is fueling rampant poaching and threatening drive African elephants to extinction.

Just last week, British naturalist Sir David Attenborough and several other conservationists and British members of Parliament sent a letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping urging him to “to act decisively to finally end China’s domestic ivory trade (both legal and illegal).”  The move also comes days ahead of a visit to China by Prince William, who is the royal patron of Tusk, a charity working to conserve wildlife in Africa. The 32-year-old prince, who will land in Beijing on Sunday, is expected to bring up the issue of ivory and wildlife trafficking during his visit.

The elephant population in Africa has fallen 65 percent since 1980, from 1.2 million to 420,000 in 2012, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. It is estimated that at least 100,000 elephants were killed for their tusks in just three years — between 2010 and 2012. If the killings continue at this rate, scientists predict that African elephants may become extinct in much of their range in as little as 10 years.

photoname Photo by Gavin Shire/ USFWSWhile the poached ivory makes its way to many countries across the world, the
bulk of it goes to China, where a growing base of middle class consumers is fuelng
demand for carved ivory.

While the poached ivory makes its way to many countries across the world, the bulk of it goes to China. The demand for ivory as a luxury item in the Middle Kingdom has been fueled in recent years by a growing base of middle class consumers.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the ivory trade in 1989, but China was allowed to continue trading it domestically. In 2009, the Chinese government was also allowed to import more than 60 tons of ivory from Africa, and that, conservationists says, has fuelled demand and has led to an underground trade. Since 2010, the price of ivory on the black market has tripled and China and that, in turn, has led to a surge in poaching in Africa, with heavily armed criminals and rebel groups hunting down whole herds of elephants.

The 2014 report Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa offers this grim summation of the situation:

"Elephant ivory poaching is no longer solely a conservation issue. As poaching reaches levels that threaten to render African elephants near-totally extinct within the next ten years, it also funds a wide range of destabilizing actors across Africa, with significant implications for human conflict. A single elephant yields 10kg of ivory worth approximately $30,000; a conservative estimate is that 23,000 elephants were killed in 2013. With the true figure likely much higher, the ivory trade could be worth as much as a billion dollars annually, and will likely increase with the escalating retail price of ivory."

(In case you are sitting there and shaking your head at the far away Chinese citizenry, bear in mind that the United States is the second largest market for ivory after China. Thankfully, efforts are underway to change that. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service imposed a ban on ivory imports, with some exceptions — such as ivory from sport-hunted trophies, scientific research, inherited ivory etc. The states of New York and New Jersey too, imposed their own bans in 2014 and bills to ban ivory sales have been tabled in California, Hawai'i, and Massachusetts.)

Wildlife advocates and conservationists welcomed the Chinese government's move, but said that more drastic action was needed in order to save the African elephant.

"We are thankful that China has decided to ban ivory imports for one year, but vehemently hope that this leads to a permanent ban, as nothing less than this will help save Africa’s elephants from extinction. China needs to take a stronger stance in the fight for the survival of this iconic species,” said Lindy Taverner of African Wildlife Trust, a Tanzania-based group that fights elephant poaching.

Others point out that the ban would only affect Mainland China and not Hong Kong, which is the main destination of illegal ivory in the country. Besides, they say, the import ban will not affect domestic trade since the country already has an ample stockpile of legal ivory that it can release into the market.

"This domestic ivory market confuses consumers, removes stigma about ivory consumption, provides cover for criminals to smuggle ivory, hinders law enforcement and stimulates poaching of elephants," Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told the Associated Press.

"The domestic market those stockpiles create needs to be limited for real change to take place,” agreed Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is an important step in the right direction. And more still needs to be done to restrict the sale — and reduce demand for — elephant ivory in China, the United States, and around the world. Until we cut off people’s desire for ivory, elephants will continue to die.”


Maureen Nandini Mitra, Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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