In a development widely described as game changing for the ecosystem engineers, China has announced it will enact a total ban on its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017.
The news on Friday, as Agence France-Press reports, "follows Beijing's announcement in March to widen a ban on imports of all ivory and ivory products acquired before 1975, after pressure to restrict a trade that sees thousands of elephants slaughtered every year."
Reuters adds: "The State Council said in a notice a complete ban would be enforced by Dec. 31, 2017. A first batch of factories and shops will need to close and hand in their licenses by March 31, 2017."
It is indeed a significant step, as "China is currently the biggest buyer and seller of ivory in the world," as BBC News notes, and the thirst for ivory is driving the slaughter of elephants.
The situation is "alarming," according the Great Elephant Census, conducted this year. It found the population of the Savanna elephants of Africa "dramatically declining"—30 percent over last 7 years mainly due to poaching.
Thus declared Peter Knights, CEO of the conservation group WildAid: "China's exit from the ivory trade is the greatest single step that could be taken to reduce poaching for elephants."
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"The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years," said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) president and CEO Carter Roberts, "and the future is brighter for wild elephants. "
To ensure such a future, Elly Pepper, deputy director of wildlife trade for the Natural Resources Defense Council, writes that
[n]ow, it's crucial other countries with domestic ivory markets, including the UK, follow China's lead and shut them down. Even the U.S., which has largely closed its ivory market by banning the ivory trade at the federal level and in many states (e.g., HI, NY, OR, WA, NJ), can do more in the way of enforcement, while also helping other countries follow suit. As recognized in resolutions agreed to by many countries and leading conservation experts at the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), domestic ivory bans are critical to stopping the poaching of elephants. And while China is one piece of the puzzle, all countries must work together to end the global ivory trade if we hope to bring elephants back from the brink.
Echoing Pepper, Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animals Welfare, said, "To stop the slaughter of elephants, we have to break every link on the trade chain—from poaching to trafficking to demand."