It's Official: China Has Put An End To Its Legal Ivory Trade

'Decades from now, we may point back to this as one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation.' -WWF  jo Crebbin/Shutterstock

In China, ivory is officially so last year.

On December 31, 2017, the Chinese government shut down all of its remaining domestic ivory trade, meaning one of the world’s largest consumers of ivory is no longer legally selling and purchasing ivory.

Poaching is one of the biggest threats facing African elephants, resulting in the slaughter of 30,000 elephants each year. Combined with habitat destruction, poaching has devastated population numbers in recent history. Over the past 100 years, the number of African elephants in the wild has fallen from between 3-5 million to just 415,000, according to the WWF.

As you can imagine, the news that the world's biggest market for ivory is no more is being celebrated by conservation groups, wildlife activists, and animal lovers across the world.

“Decades from now, we may point back to this as one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation," Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of the WWF, said in a statement. "China has followed through on a great promise it made to the world, offering hope for the future of elephants.” 

Despite an international ivory trade ban being enacted in 1990, many countries across the world continued to trade within their own borders. Xinhua news agency reports that there were in fact 34 legal processing workshops and 143 designated trading venues in existence in China before the new ban. To help those working in the now-illegal industry transition, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help people utilize their skills in other workplaces. For example, master carvers will be given the opportunity to work with museums to teach others about the history of the craft or carry out restoration work.

It’s too early to say how much China's ban will curtail the elephant poaching because the illegal trade will undoubtedly continue in China and beyond. However, it sends a powerful message when one of ivory's great patrons in the world is now turning its back on the trade.

“This ban alone won’t end the poaching of elephants. It’s equally critical that China’s neighbors follow suit and shut down ivory markets across Asia. Only then can we ensure the open trade doesn’t simply shift to other countries and offer traffickers safe channels for newly-poached ivory,” added Hemley. 

“The fate of Africa’s elephants depends on global rejection of ivory trade, and governments hold the key to driving this.”

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