The world’s largest ivory market has just been closed with an announcement by the Chinese government that legal ivory trade will be ended in this country. A timeline was released that shows that domestic ivory sales will be banned by the end of 2017 with the first batch of factories and traders to close their business by end March 2017.

In 2016, President Xi Jinping made a public commitment to phasing-out the ivory trade as evidence increasingly pointed to the fact that this product is falling out of favour with Chinese consumers. A 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. Anecdotal evidence gathered by WildAid campaigners in China indicates prices may have decreased further in 2016.

Market inquiries in May 2016 found raw ivory prices of around $450 to $900, representing a decrease of 57% to 78% compared with a 2014 high of $2 100 per kilogram in mainland China. 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.

The announcement was received as excellent news by conservation organisations. “China’s exit from the ivory trade is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants. We will continue to support efforts through education and persuading consumers not to buy ivory,” said WildAid CEO, Peter Knights.

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. However, 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 the laundering of illegal ivory shipments from recently poached elephants. –




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