China Bans Ivory Trade: Great News For African Elephants

China’s state council announced on Friday the details of a ban on the country’s ivory trade following a resolution at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in South Africa in October of 2016. According to BBC News, the Chinese ivory trade is the world’s largest, with as much as 70 percent of the world’s ivory ending up for sale on the Chinese market. Sales of ivory on the Chinese market can bring in as much as $1,100 per kilogram, making it a lucrative endeavor for poachers to kill elephants even in countries where elephant hunting is banned.

By March 31, 2017, legal commercial processing and sale of ivory will be completely stopped in China and registered traders will be phased out with the country’s officials expecting a full stop to its legal ivory trade by the end of 2017.

China ban ivory trade
China's ban on the ivory trade will help protect vulnerable African savanna elephants. [Image by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images]

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) welcomed the news of the ban on the ivory trade in China on its website.

“Closing the world’s largest legal ivory market will deter people in China and beyond from buying ivory and make it harder for ivory traffickers to sell their illegal stocks,” said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF-China.

“WWF applauds China’s decision to ban its domestic ivory trade so swiftly, underlining the government’s determination and strong leadership to reduce demand for ivory and help save Africa’s elephants.”

The move comes at a perilous time for the species. According to the Great Elephant Census published earlier this year, the African savanna elephant population is down 30 percent in the past seven years, with only 352,271 of the majestic creatures remaining on the entire African continent.

“Elephants are a keystone species and crucial to Africa’s forests and savannas,” the Great Elephant Census states on its site. “They are vulnerable and creating a sustainable elephant population will require a coordinated and multifaceted effort.”

According to the New York Times, pressure on the Chinese government over the ivory trade has come not only from wildlife organizations. Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball star who played for the Houston Rockets, has made wildlife conservation his main cause and has publicly denounced the Chinese ivory trade. Ming has appeared on billboards in Chinese cities standing amidst large piles of elephant tusks and was featured in a 2014 documentary on the ivory trade called The End of the Wild.

Under the ban, people in China who already have products made from ivory will still be allowed keep them and give them as gifts. According to the New York Times, owners will also be allowed sell ivory items they already own at supervised auctions with official approval. Beyond that, there will be strict penalties for Chinese citizens engaging in illegal black market ivory trading. The Chinese ministry of culture plans to help workers in the industry, including master ivory carvers, find related jobs.

The move by China to ban its ivory trade comes at least partly as a result of negotiations with the United States. At a meeting in 2015 between Barack Obama and Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the two countries agreed to strive for nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, according to the New York Times.

Regardless of the confluence of factors that led to the decision, China’s ban on the ivory trade is great news for the majestic, but vulnerable elephants of the African savanna. While the trade still remains open in other countries in southeast Asia, and poaching and black market trading will likely continue to some degree in China, this move by the world’s most populous country to ban the ivory trade could not have come a moment too soon.

[Featured Image by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images]