China to phase out ivory trade

Today China has announced that it plans on phasing out the production and selling of products made from ivory. This is being done due to the amount of illegal elephant poaching which is occurring worldwide and has left elephants endangered in many areas.

China has a long history of hunting endangered animals and it is believed that 80% of wildlife crime is committed due to the demand in China for rare animal products. The announcement today marks the first real step towards correcting this issue. Zhao Shucong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said: “We will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”

According to a survey conducted in China’s 3 largest cities, 95 percent of residents agreed that the “Chinese government should impose a ban on the ivory trade to help stop the poaching of elephants in Africa.” However, only 41% believed that elephant poaching was a problem which underlines the lack of awareness of this issue. Over 50 tonnes of illegal ivory was seized last year which although a victory for customs officers meant that 1000’s of elephants had already been killed. Ivory retails at $2000 per kg resulting in a profit margin of around 2500% for the traffickers.

Illegal ivory is crushed in Beijing, China, 29 May Photograph: Li Xin/Xinhua Press/Corbis

China intent to enforce stricter controls on wildlife trade in general which is encouraging news. Wildlife crime is traditionally carried out by mafia esque gangs which bribe and corrupt officials in order to facilitate crime. In Kate Whittington’s article of last year “Corruption – the greatest obstacle to elephant conservation?”, she highlighted just these issues and goes on to suggest that corruption is the main problem and not necessarily the poaching itself. Many key conservation groups such as CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) are widely rumoured to give and accept bribes which, if true, is a complete betrayal of everything they were set up to achieve.

China has upcoming trade talks with the US whereby they plan on tackling the issue of wildlife crime and it is likely that this announcement is aimed, in part, at the US in a bid to show their commitment. There is no doubt this is a fine goal but it will be the implementation that will make or break this idea. Wildlife crime is so much a part of life in China that tackling it will require the collapse of large criminal groups. China however is not nation that has ever appeared to shy away from prosecuting criminals; after all it still has the highest death penalty rates of any country. It will take many years but it is just possible that China can do something that will genuinely result in an improvement to whole ecosystems and communities in Africa. It’s certainly a goal worth aiming for.

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