China to ban domestic ivory trade by end of 2017

Wildlife campaigner calls Chinese ban ‘the biggest and best conservation news of 2016’

Poaching is a major factor contributing to the rapid decline in the numbers of African elephants, with about 20,000 slaughtered every year. Photograph: AP Photo/Denis Farrell

Poaching is a major factor contributing to the rapid decline in the numbers of African elephants, with about 20,000 slaughtered every year. Photograph: AP Photo/Denis Farrell

 

China will slap a total ban on the domestic ivory trade within a year, the government announced on Friday, shutting the door to the world’s biggest end-market for poached ivory.

The state council said in a notice a complete ban would be enforced by December 31st, 2017. A first batch of factories and shops will need to close and hand in their licences by March 31st, 2017.

Conservation groups applauded the ban, with WildAid’s wildlife campaigner Alex Hofford calling it “the biggest and best conservation news of 2016”.

Environmentalists say poached ivory can be disguised as legal as long as trade is allowed in licensed outlets on the high street and online.

Poaching is a major factor contributing to the rapid decline in the numbers of African elephants, with about 20,000 slaughtered every year, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

It says about 415,000 African elephants remain today, compared with the three to five million in the early 20th century. The animal is officially listed as a vulnerable species.

People with ivory products previously obtained through legal means can apply for certification and continue to display them in exhibitions and museums, the government announcement said.

Ivory antiques

WWF Hong Kong’s senior wildlife crime officer Cheryl Lo said the bold timeline “shows determination to help save Africa’s elephants from extinction”.

“A ban clearly requires strong enforcement and support from the government to be most effective. But together with China’s announcement, now three of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets, that is China, Hong Kong and the US, are being phased out,” said Ms Lo.

The US enacted a near-total ban on commercial trade in ivory from African elephants in June.

Transit hub

The financial centre also remains an important transit and consumption hub for illegal ivory to China and the rest of Asia.

Chinese ivory traders have tried to pre-empt the ban, WildAid’s Mr Hofford said, with some carvers setting up shops in Laos and Myanmar, and other traders moving products “offshore” to places such as Hong Kong. – Reuters