1. BEIJING—China says it will ban all domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017, closing down the world’s biggest ivory market in a move wildlife conservationists believe will help curb elephant poaching in Africa.
“China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation,” Carter Roberts, chief executive of World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement. “The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years.”
Current owners of ivory products will be allowed to keep them, transfer them as gifts, bequeath them to descendants, or sell them at supervised auctions after securing official approval. Authorities will also step up enforcement against ivory-related businesses and launch campaigns to educate the public on the iniquities of the ivory trade.
In China, ivory is often regarded as a symbol of wealth and status, and high-quality carvings enjoy significant collectible value. Chinese demand helps sustain a poaching industry that kills between 20,000 and 30,000 elephants annually, according to World Wildlife Fund.
China has been the leading destination for African-sourced ivory since at least 2002, according to data from the Elephant Trade Information System, an international monitoring tool set up under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites. Some wildlife experts estimate that Chinese consumers receive as much as 70% of the global ivory supply.
Although China is a party to Cites, which banned the international ivory trade in 1989, wildlife experts say rising demand from a swelling Chinese middle class has fueled a resurgence in elephant killings in the past decade.
Elephant populations in the African savanna shrank by about 30% from 2007 to 2014, according to the Great Elephant Census, a research effort backed by wildlife nonprofit Elephants Without Borders, which counted about 352,000 elephants in 18 African countries.
Many international wildlife groups targeted China in long-running publicity campaigns, urging officials to intervene and consumers to boycott ivory products. Attitudes among some younger, urban Chinese have been changing too in recent years, with some celebrities joining wildlife-conservation campaigns.
In a reflection of that, news of the ivory ban was mostly well-received on Chinese social media. “The country’s rollout of new protection measures is the best New Year’s gift to elephants,” Li Bingbing, a popular Chinese actress, wrote Saturday on her verified Weibo microblog. “Hope to hear more good news about protecting endangered species.”
Beijing has taken steps to address the issue in recent years, including stepping up enforcement against illegal ivory smuggling.
‘The country’s rollout of new protection measures is the best New Year’s gift to elephants’
—Li Bingbing, Chinese actress
In September 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama jointly pledged to “enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export” and to “take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.”
China has 34 designated ivory-processing factories and 143 designated sales centers, all of which must be shut down by the end of 2017, the State Forestry Administration said on its official Weibo social-media account.
Conservationists estimate China’s ivory industry comprises 89 companies employing fewer than 3,000 people, while their remaining ivory stock is worth less than $156 million, according to a 2016 report by World Wildlife Fund and wildlife-trade monitor Traffic.
Many of these firms have started to diversify their operations, which suggests “not all affected employees will lose their livelihoods as a consequence of an ivory trade ban,” the report said.
It wasn’t clear how China’s ban may affect the ivory trade in Hong Kong, where authorities in December proposed legislative changes to end the local ivory trade by 2021. Industry representatives have opposed the plan, which the city’s legislature will consider in the coming months. Some wildlife conservationists expressed concern Hong Kong’s slower ban could turn the former British colony into a ivory-trading hot spot.