Ivory trade prohibition comes into force in China

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The State Council of the PRC issued an announcement on the 30th of December 2016, stating that the commercial manufacturing and selling of ivory products was being stopped all over Mainland China. In consequence, any sale of ivory products on the markets is forbidden in Mainland China from the 1st of January 2018. This prohibition is likely to have a profound impact on elephant conservation.

American business news site Quartz assessed recently that China was the largest ivory importer in the world, and that thirty thousand elephants were poached in Africa every year due to Chinese demand. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2016 estimated the quantity to be even larger, presenting data showing that a hundred thousand African elephants were poached over three years due to demand from China.

As Chinese paper Qdaily notes in their report, there are different views on how best to protect elephants. The mainstream view is in support of a complete ban of the ivory trade, as the existence of a legal ivory trade not only directly impacts elephant conservation but also provides a cover for trafficking. In addition, the prohibition itself will warn and educated the purchasers, thus reducing the demand for ivory.

Others however argue that finding a solution to elephant conservation is more complex. As the demand for ivory will not cease to exist, the prohibition might simply lead to illegal trafficking, forcing up the price and encouraging the poaching and smuggling of ivory. Others also worry that the ivory trade will simply be transferred to other Asian countries, such as Laos, which currently has the fastest-growing market. What’s more, the ivory trade in Laos mainly serves Chinese customers.

A report by the New York Times in August 2017 found that as ivory craftsmen in China learned that the prohibition was to be enforced at the end of 2017, they turned their sights on mammoth tusks as substitutes for ivory. The art of ivory carving has a long tradition in China. Some environmentalists fear that the rapid development of the trade in mammoth tusks could end up providing cover for the black market for ivory.