China’s policy toward ivory is a key element in determining the future of Africa’s elephants. Demand from China is a major driver of the ivory trade, and cutting consumer demand is essential in stopping the killing of elephants. Yesterday, at an ivory crush event in Beijing that destroyed nearly 1,500 pounds of tusks and ivory carvings, China announced that it will “strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.” This statement is the strongest that China has made about ending its ivory trade, but no timeline for or details of the phaseout were provided.
“This demonstrates China’s will to set about ending the ivory trade,” said Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, CEO of WCN Partner Save the Elephants. “It is the signal we have waited for.”
Ending the ivory trade in China is extremely important because the presence of a legal commercial ivory trade has stimulated consumer demand and allowed illicit items to enter into the market under the auspices of legality. The phase-out was one part of a ten-point plan announced in China yesterday by Zhao Shucong, head of China’s State Forest Administration. Other points included cracking down on the illegal trade of wildlife products and continuing to curb demand through public awareness campaigns.
Ending demand for ivory in China has been a key part of the work supported by the Elephant Crisis Fund, which is a joint project of Save the Elephants and Wildlife Conservation network. The ECF has funded on-the-ground actions by organizations such as Natural Resources Defense Council, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and WildAid working toward a ban on the ivory trade and reducing consumer demand.
“It is very encouraging to hear China pledge to halt the commercial trade of ivory,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director at International Fund for Animal Welfare said following the announcement. “IFAW’s campaigns that are supported by WCN’s Elephant Crisis Fund are changing consumer behavior already. However, policy shifts to make ivory trade illegal in all circumstances are the most important step to stigmatize ivory consumption, contributing to reducing demand.”
“Shutting down commercial ivory markets worldwide is the single biggest step that governments can take to end the elephant poaching crisis,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of Land & Wildlife Program at NRDC, another recipient of ECF funds. As the world’s largest ivory market, the importance of China’s announcement to phase out all commercial ivory sales cannot be underestimated. With the support of the Elephant Crisis Fund, NRDC has been working to reduce the demand for ivory in China through policy and legal reform because of the important role that its markets hold for the future of elephants.
Wildlife Conservation Network welcomes China’s increased commitment to ending the ivory trade and hopes to see a movement to act on this commitment in the near future.