China’s ban on domestic ivory sales comes into force

A ban on all sales of ivory products in China comes into force on Sunday, a move hailed by conservationists as an important step in the fight to protect endangered species such as African elephants.

China, one of the world’s biggest markets for African ivory, announced last year that it would outlaw all domestic trade and processing by the end of 2017.

The move came after pressure that its vast demand for ivory — seen as a status symbol by some in the country — fuels elephant poaching in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.

“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 for wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement on Saturday.

“China has followed through on a great promise it made to the world, offering hope for the future of elephants.” 

One-off sale

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which took effect in 1975, banned international ivory trade in 1989. China, however, continued to allow ivory sales domestically.

In 2008, CITES, the UN agreement that bans the trade of endangered species, allowed a one-off sale to China of 70 tonnes of registered ivory stocks, said Peter Knights, chief executive officer of WildAid, a group working towards completely rooting out illegal wildlife trade.

“Consequently, the poaching went up quickly. We went from very few elephants being poached each year to about 33 000 a year at the peak around 2011”, he told Al Jazeera.

Supporters of the one-off sale said at the time that pairing ivory supplies with China’s massive demand would decrease poaching and reduce the illegal trade. Conservationists, however, said the move would have the opposite effect and increase demand.

“What we’ve seen is that when the trade is legal, the poaching goes up because it’s easier to launder illegal ivory. Whereas if trade is illegal, then it’s quite hard to do this”, said Knights, adding that “traders were using legal ivory trade to bring in illegal ivory from Africa”. 

Major impact

After China announced its ban on the government-sanctioned ivory sales, change started happening immediately. Shops that sold ivory began closing, while the price of ivory plummeted.

Before the announcement, a kilogram of ivory could cost as much as $2 100. After, the price dropped to about $500 per kilogram.

More importantly, Knights said, the move has had a big impact in the countries where poaching is taking place.

“We’re already seeing in Africa, in Kenya and Tanzania , that poaching has gone down dramatically. That’s partly because they’ve upped their game against poaching, but also because the demand has gone down.”

This does not only mean elephants have a better chance of surviving, but also African countries stand to benefit financially.

“One elephant can be worth about $1-million in its lifetime in terms of tourism revenue. Obviously, if it’s poached for its ivory the country gets nothing,” said Knights. 

Other markets?

The new rule however does not apply to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong, where the trade is still legal for at least another five years.

Knights, however, believes that change is coming there too.

“The mainland ban will impact Hong Kong,” he said. “Sure, people can smuggle one or two small items for personal use, but people know they won’t be able to resell it in large quantities in China — and that will lead to a decline in sales in Hong Kong as well.”

Knights estimates that at “the end of the next couple of years it’s going to be really just Japan that still allows legal trade”.

“Unfortunately, they’re adamant about keeping it going, despite buying ivory is a fairly new phenomenon there that sprung up in the 1960s, whereas China has had an ivory-carving tradition for centuries.”

Despite China’s ban, there is still the risk of affluent Chinese going abroad to buy ivory from other parts of Asia — in countries like Laos and Vietnam, where laws are less strict.

“Once the trade becomes illegal in one place, it pops up somewhere, but it’s always in smaller quantities,” said Knights.

“It is a whack-a-mole but the mole is getting smaller and smaller.” — Al Jazeera

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might

Why South Africa should consider amnesty for undocumented migrants in the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories