“China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation. The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years, and the future is brighter for wild elephants, said Carter Roberts, the president and CEO of WWF. “With the US also ending its domestic ivory trade earlier this year, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world.”
Before European colonization, scientists believe that Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants; by 1979 only 1.3 million remained — and the Great Elephant Census, an ambitious project to count all of Africa’s savannah elephants from the sky, revealed this year that things have gotten far worse.
In the seven years between 2007 and 2014, the elephant population plummeted by 30%, or 144,000 animals.
“China’s exit from the ivory trade is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants,” WildAid CEO Peter Knights said in a written statement.
The Chinese State Council’s plan to end the ivory trade will be carried out over the course of the year. It will first force a designated group of legal ivory processing factories and business to close by March 31, according to the state-run China Daily.
The plan also involves stringent regulation of legal ivory collection, strengthening enforcement and education and “vigorously” pushing for a transformation of the ivory carving industry, including helping encourage ivory carving masters to find work with museums or in preservation efforts.
The government will no longer allow ivory products to be displayed in real or online markets — only noncommercial sites, such as museums, will be allowed to display ivory, China Daily says.
A lifeline for elephants?
In recent years, China has taken moves to outlaw the ivory trade.
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in September 2015 a joint pledge to end the legal and illegal trade of ivory in their respective countries.
Importing and exporting ivory across international borders is banned, but licensed ivory sellers are allowed to sell pre-1989 ivory domestically, though a 2015 investigation by a conservation group concluded that some traders appear to be using the legal trade as a cover.
CNN’s Wilfred Chan, Tim Schwartz, Pamela Boykoff and David McKenzie contributed to this report