China Bans Ivory Imports To Prevent Poaching

China’s ivory imports are blamed for depleting the African elephant population at an alarming rate. In response to continued criticism, China’s State Forestry Administration issued a temporary ban on some ivory imports. Although the ban is limited to one year, the agency hopes it will reduce poaching rates.

As stated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States recognized African elephants as an endangered species in 1978. Ten years later, the United States Congress passed the African Elephant Conservation Act. The act, which remains in effect, prohibits the import of “raw African elephant ivory into the U.S. from any country unless certain conditions are met.”

As a result, ivory imports to the United States were dramatically reduced. In stark contrast, China’s ivory trade continues to thrive.

As reported by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, an estimated 100,000 African elephants were slaughtered between 2010 and 2012. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the illegally obtained ivory was destined for China.

Although ivory is most commonly carved into ornaments and jewelry, it is also an important component in traditional Chinese medicine. In China, ivory is simply part of the culture.

As reported by the New York Times, China’s ivory manufacturers and distributors are required to have a license. Unfortunately, the shop owners are not necessarily interested in conservation. A Shanghai ivory shop owner explains his point of view.

“People kill elephants so the ivory becomes more valuable, which will make people live better and happier… Elephants die anyway. If they become extinct it really doesn’t matter.”

Although China’s ivory import ban is a step in the right direction, it fails to address the country’s domestic ivory trade. As reported by the Washington Post, a vast majority of illegally-obtained ivory is sold by licensed dealers. International Fund of Animal Welfare Director Grace Ge Gabriel explains.

“China’s domestic ivory trade is a much bigger and pressing problem for elephant conservation. 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.”

Gabriel applauds the temporary ban. However, she does not think it will have a significant impact. Instead, she believes “China should improve its legislation to ban trade and consumption of elephant ivory.”

China’s ivory import ban applies to ivory carvings only and will last for one year. At the end of the year, China’s State Forestry Administration will determine whether the ban made any significant impact on the poaching rate.

[Image via Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]