China announced on 30 December 2016 that it would close down its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017, bringing an end to the world’s largest legal ivory market.
Conservationists and wildlife advocates around the world have welcomed China’s announcement to cease all ivory processing and sales by the end of 2017. Aili King of Wildlife Conservation Society Asia called it “a game changer for Africa’s elephants”.
China is the world’s largest legal ivory market, purchasing around 70 per cent of the world’s ivory. Closing it will deter people in China and beyond from buying ivory and will make it harder for ivory traffickers to sell their illegal stock, explained Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF China.
As EnviroNews reported, the decision will affect 34 ivory processors and 143 trading venues in China. It will also put pressure on governments elsewhere to remove loopholes that allow the ivory trade to continue unchecked.
“Now that three of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets – China, Hong Kong SAR and the US – are being phased out, we hope that other countries will follow suit,” said Lo Sze Ping. “China and the US have shown how quickly markets can be addressed and the sooner the better for Africa’s elephants.”
According to WWF, around 20,000 elephants are killed illegally each year across the content, primarily to feed demand for ivory in Asia, and in China in particular.
But while closing all commercial legal domestic ivory markets will have a major impact, the illegal trade will not disappear so long as demand persists.
As Professor Stuart Bearhop of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter told the Independent: “I think ivory will never become worthless, there will doubtless still be a large black market for it within China. For example, while some east African countries have been very vocal about clamping down on poaching, the illegal trade flourishes in other countries in Southeast Asia where ivory is banned.”
WWF, TRAFFIC and other conservation organisations are working closely with governments to end the illegal ivory trade by developing national action plans that reduce the demand for ivory.