China / Society

Conservationists call for end to China's legal ivory trade

By Su Zhou ( Updated: 2016-08-14 19:20

Conservation organizations have called on the Chinese government to introduce a total ban on the ivory trade in China in the next one or two years, with no expiration date nor financial compensation for those who would lose business.

Xu Yang, a wildlife trade specialist at the World Wildlife Fund in China, said on Friday that the majority of Chinese consumers would stop buying ivory products if the legal trade channel was shut down.

"It would also leave no room for speculators to operate if the ban on the ivory trade in China were permanent," added Xu.

During President Xi Jinping's visit to the United States in September, the two countries made a joint commitment to take "significant and timely steps" to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory. In June, the Obama administration announced a near-total ban on the interstate trading of ivory while China promised to publish a timetable by the end of the year to halt its domestic commercial trade in ivory

The WWF and TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors the global wildlife trade, are compiling a feasibility report on banning the ivory trade in China in the hope that it can become a technical reference document for the Chinese government.

Zhou Fei, head of the China program at TRAFFIC, said the African elephant population had dropped from 3 to 5 million, to only 500,000 in recent years. "If we don't do anything, African elephants will be functionally extinct in the following two decades," Zhou said.

Xu from WWF China said when talking about global issues such as elephant protection, there are more divergences than convergences, and it was great progress for China and the US to abandon political bias and make the commitment on African elephant protection.

"And we have noticed that both the price of and demand for ivory products are reduced. The government's attitude has sent out a strong message to the market," said Xu.

"More countries and regions will now follow China and the United States and finally contribute to the recovery of the elephant population."

At present, the trade and manufacture of ivory products is legal in China. In 2008, China got approval from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the body that regulates the international wildlife trade, to buy about 62 metric tons of ivory in a one-time sale from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Every year, about 5 tons of that ivory is released into the market.

However, a survey conducted by WWF China showed that more than 50 percent of consumers don't know how to distinguish legal and illegal ivory products.

"Putting more ivory into the legal supply chain creates a smoke screen for the illicit trade in ivory. Despite the fact that every legal ivory-carved product has an identity card, many consumers don't know about and ask for the card. These identity cards could then be used for illegal ivory products," said Xu.

"Besides, China has a growing middle-class who would like to purchase ivory as a symbol of social status. The limited amount of ivory put into the legal market could not satisfy this demand."

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