The Chinese government indicated today that it was planning to eventually phase out its domestic ivory market.
According to the announcement by the Administrator of China’s State Forestry Administration during the public destruction of 662 kg of confiscated illegal ivory, the Chinese authorities will “strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”
“This is a very positive signal, and WWF applauds the Chinese government’s determination to conserve wildlife and combat illegal trade of wildlife and wildlife products including ivory,” said Lo Sze Ping, Chief Executive Officer of WWF China. ”This will have profound impact on wild elephant conservation and ivory trafficking.”
Today’s crushing of tusks and ivory carvings that were seized since 2014 follows an ivory destruction event held in Guangdong, China, in January 2014 when 6.15 tonnes of seized elephant ivory were crushed. Other nations and territories to destroy ivory stockpiles recently include Belgium, Republic of Congo, France, Gabon, Hong Kong, Kenya, UAE and the USA.
“The decision to phase out China’s ivory market as well as today’s destruction of the seized ivory are powerful indications of the government’s commitment to support international action against elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade,” said Zhou Fei, Head of TRAFFIC’s China Office.
“However, ivory destructions should not be an end in themselves—any such events should be followed by actions to ensure countries continue to comply with their international commitments under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to shut down the illegal ivory trade.”
Government sources confirmed today’s ivory destruction was preceded by an independent third party audit of the stockpile to be destroyed. WWF and TRAFFIC consider such audits should be a prerequisite before any ivory stockpile destruction is carried out, to ensure there is utmost transparency in the process. The impacts of such destruction events on markets and prices also need to be monitored, in order to determine how effective they are in achieving their stated aims.
Key to curbing wildlife crime will be a scaling up of efforts by government agencies and others in China and beyond to change consumer behaviour and reduce the demand for illegal ivory products that ultimately fuel elephant poaching. Such efforts should go in tandem with stringent efforts to stem the supply of illegal ivory into the market.
Alongside improved enforcement, these include public awareness measures. Earlier this month, TRAFFIC hosted a workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for Chinese businesses and citizens based in Africa to address the growing issue of illegal ivory trade. Engagement with industry is crucial too: in March, representatives of 17 leading courier companies operating in China made a public declaration pledging their zero tolerance towards illegal wildlife trade.
China and Thailand are the largest ivory markets in Asia, although both nations have been taking actions to address this unenviable status, including compulsory registration in Thailand of all ivory stocks held by businesses and private individuals, and a temporary import ban announced by China on all ivory goods.
In recent years, as many as 22,000 elephants—possibly more—have been killed annually for their ivory to supply the illicit ivory trade.