China purchases more than 70 percent of the world’s ivory, making the country one of the largest players in the ivory game. Ivory is a status symbol in China, wielded into ornate decor and intricate trinkets that fetch wallet cringing prices. The market value of ivory has tripled since 2010, and with it illegal elephant poaching has increased.
Despite a global ivory ban — enacted back in 1989— large scale poaching has resumed in recent years, killing more than 110,000 African elephants. The issue rests in the legal domestic ivory industry that inadvertently fuels the illegal ivory trade. It is difficult to distinguish between pre-ban ivory and illegally poached ivory, and so illegally obtained ivory finds its way into the marketplace.
As the pressure to meet consumer demands increases, so too does the illegal poaching in Africa. It is a never ending cycle and one that has been repeated throughout Africa’s history whenever something of value—be it oil, diamonds, or ivory—is found.
According to a report from Christian Science Monitor, “Dead elephants are causing increasing grief for China and its diplomatic relations in Africa and the rest of the world. China’s government has said it is trying to curb the illegal trade.” With more than 130 licensed shops selling ivory and 34 ivory manufacturers, China’s December announcement that they would be shutting down their ivory trade by the end of 2017, created waves of excitement.
“I am very proud of my country for showing this leadership that will help ensure that elephants have a fighting chance to beat extinction,” says Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Asia, in a statement to Al Jazeera. “This is a game changer for Africa’s elephants.”
China’s move to shut down its ivory trade will help save Africa’s remaining elephants and curb illegal poaching. Neighboring Hong Kong— home to the largest, domestic legal ivory market and a massive transit hub for illegal ivory— also vows to phase out its ivory trade by 2021.