December 31, 2017 just marked the end of a brutal era: China’s legal, government-backed elephant ivory trade is finally coming to an end as part of a joint agreement with the US to no longer allow the sale or production of this “precious commodity.”
“The Chinese government’s ban on its domestic ivory trade sends a message to the general public in China that the life of elephants is more important than the ivory carving culture,” said Gao Yufang, a Ph.D. student at Yale University, “This is a significant step forward.”
The nation’s high-demand for these tusks is believed to be largely responsible for the 30,000 African elephants savagely hunted and killed by poachers.
— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) December 29, 2017
n China, there is a widespread cultural association between ivory and status, though the commodity also has practical uses for chopsticks, small trinkets, and carvings, among others.
Although an international ban had already been in place since 1990, the Eastern nation resisted and even openly promoted ivory sales.
But back in 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and then-US President Barack Obama made a joint-announcement to cooperate in banning its imports and exports.
Since then, the move to ban their lucrative ivory market has been gradual, with the “first wave of factories and retailers” closing in March 2017.
“It is difficult to predict to what extent China’s ivory ban can reduce elephant poaching in Africa because many factors are at play,” said Yufang, “But it has been observed that in China prices of ivory products have dropped considerably, and the market is already shrinking.”
“All countries with domestic ivory markets that are contributing to poaching or illegal trade now need to ban ivory if we’re to save Africa’s elephants”.
— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) December 29, 2017
However, some remain skeptical of China’s apparent eagerness to comply with the international consensus of elephant poaching, since there’s always been an illegal market for ivory operating parallel to the nation’s legal one.
Publicly shutting down factories and retailers that operate in the open does nothing for entities operating in the shadows.
Indeed, an awareness of ivory and how it is attained remains a major sticking point in changing Chinese hearts and minds.
In just a few hours China – the world’s biggest consumer of ivory – will close down the last of its 172 ivory carving factories and introduce a complete ban on ivory sales. Let us make #2018 a turning point for elephants.
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) December 31, 2017
As National Geographic reports:
“In Chinese the word for ivory is xiangya, meaning “elephant tooth,” which has led many to believe erroneously that ivory can be taken from an elephant without inflicting harm.
“The nonprofit International Fund for Animal Welfare did polling in 2007 in China that found that 70 percent of respondents didn’t realize an elephant had to be killed to take its ivory.”
urthermore, one survey discovered that the Chinese public was generally unaware of the incoming ban, with only 19% knowing about it—though, luckily, 86% of respondents said they supported the ban once they were informed of its existence.
“By closing its ivory markets, China is showing its commitment to end its role in the poaching epidemic plaguing Africa’s elephants,” said Ginette Hemley of the World Wildlife Fund, “It is critical that efforts to enact the ivory trade ban are accompanied by efforts to change consumer behavior in order to reduce demand.”
To this end, the China’s State Forestry Administration, which is responsible for “enforcing the new ban,” plans to make public education on this matter a top priority.
Part of their efforts is an educational campaign including “posters, videos, and articles spread across traditional and social media outlets telling people to protect endangered elephants by respecting the law and saying ‘no to ivory.’”