China agrees to phase out ivory industry to combat elephant poaching

Image: Chinese government officials prepare to burn a 662kg ivory stockpile in Beijing today © Li Xin/Xinhua Press/Corbis

May 29, 2015: China's announcement has been described by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as, “the single greatest measure” in the fight to save the last African elephants from poaching. At an event today in Beijing, foreign diplomats witnessed 662 kg of confiscated ivory being symbolically destroyed. Zhao Shucong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said: “We will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”

This is the first time China has committed to phase out its legal, domestic ivory industry. Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF’s China division applauded the Chinese government’s strengthening resolve to reduce demand in the world’s biggest market for trafficked ivory. "This decision will have a profound impact on wild elephant conservation and ivory trafficking," he said.

No time scale
Speaking to The Guardian, Peter Knights, the executive director of anti-trafficking group, WildAid, said the announcement was significant but he would be waiting to see whether the pledge was delivered. China has not set a timescale for the phase-out.

“In our recent survey, 95% of Chinese supported a total ban on ivory sales. This would be the next logical step for China, as well as the greatest single measure to reduce poaching in Africa,” said Knights.

The stockpile is released to licensed carving factories and then sold legally in markets across the country. But conservation groups say this supports demand for black market tusks from freshly killed elephants.

Cutting consumer demand in China is seen as essential to stopping the loss of Africa’s last elephants to poaching, but progress has been slow. Since a ban on the international ivory trade in 1989, China is estimated to have seized more than 40 tonnes of ivory.

Maintain public pressure
This week, it was reported that Mozambique had lost half its population of 20,000 elephants in just five years. In Africa more than 22,000 elephants are killed for their tusks each year.

Responding to today's news the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust said: "We commend China for their co-operation in the fight to save elephants with this significant development. However, we remain muted until China honors this commitment with a strict timeline. In the meantime, we will continue to place pressure on China and the USA in banning the domestic trade in ivory."

After China, the USA is the world's largest importer of ivory.

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