4 January 2018

On 31st December 2017, China officially closed its domestic ivory market, fulfilling a commitment made more than a year ago.

China has been widely recognised as the largest market for both legal and illegal ivory, and demand for ivory products from Chinese consumers has been a major driver for the poaching of hundreds of thousands of elephants across Africa and Asia in recent years. The official closure of China’s ivory market represents a massive step towards eliminating poaching and protecting dwindling elephant populations.

Increasing international acknowledgement of the crisis facing elephants has triggered public awareness and demand reduction programmes, and the closure of several key markets. Efforts to protect populations on the ground and thwart the poachers and traffickers have also been enhanced. These efforts appear to be bearing some fruit. Reports suggest that since China announced its intention to shut down its domestic market, the price being paid for ivory has reduced by two thirds, and poaching levels in several countries, including Kenya and Nigeria, has reduced significantly.

This news is very welcome. However, there is much more work to do before elephant poaching and ivory trafficking can be consigned to history. As China closes its domestic market and Hong Kong embarks along a similar path, criminal syndicates are targeting other Asian countries that are fast becoming the new ivory trading hubs. Reports suggest that ivory sales are booming in the likes of Laos PDR, Vietnam and Myanmar, with consumers, principally from China, crossing borders to purchase ivory products that are becoming harder to get at home.

The UK is currently the world’s biggest exporter of ‘legal’ ivory in the form of older, worked items; in the decade to 2015, the UK declared exports of more than 25,000 ivory items, far more than from any other country, with China and Hong Kong as the principal destinations. These exports stimulate demand and act as a cover by which ‘new’ ivory from slaughtered elephants can be laundered into trade.

The European Commission and the United Kingdom Government have both been consulting on whether to further restrict trade in ivory. Tens of thousands of European citizens responded to the consultations, the vast majority of whom are believed to have called for the closure of UK and European ivory markets. It is vital that the authorities act accordingly, and introduce comprehensive ivory trade bans without delay. It is also vital that by banning elephant ivory we don’t inadvertently increase pressure on other threatened species, such as hippos, narwhals and walruses, which are also targeted for their teeth and tusks.  

There is more that our governments can do. The UK’s overseas aid budget is more than £13 billion. Linking aid funding to action on ivory trade and wider wildlife protection can help generate much-needed political will among countries in Africa and Asia, and push conservation and associated law enforcement action up the political agenda.

Ultimately, protecting wildlife and wild habitats brings enormous benefits for local people.

Born Free works on every aspect of elephant protection. We run projects in Africa aimed at protecting elephant populations against poachers; we help communities live alongside elephants by providing practical ways to mitigate human-elephant conflict; we help to train enforcement authorities in Africa and Asia to improve the interception of illegal ivory shipments and bring the poachers and traffickers to justice; and we work with governments and inter-governmental agencies to increase public awareness, improve legislation, and generate the political will to conserve elephants alongside many other species of wild animals.

China’s domestic ivory ban is a great step forward, but it’s just one step along the road to securing the future for elephants and other wild animals.

See Born Free’s policy advisor Dominic Dyer speaking about the Chinese ivory ban on Sky News recently here.


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