China says it has decided to ban all domestic trade in ivory by the end of this year. Time to celebrate? Sort of.
“China will gradually stop the processing and sales of ivories for commercial purposes by the end of 2017,” the country's Xinhua news service reported, referring to a government statement. "The decision came after the country imposed a three-year ban on ivory imports in March this year in an escalated fight against illegal trading of wild animals and plants," it went on to explain.
"The move will affect the country’s 34 processing enterprises and 143 designated trading venues, with dozens to be closed by the end of March 2017, according to an official with the State Forestry Administration."
The rapacious demand for ivory from China has been fuelling the mass slaughter of elephants in Africa and occasionally in Asia, including Malaysia. Just a few days ago two wild bull elephants were found dead in Sabah, likely killed by poachers for their tusks. Elephant tusks can be worth a minor fortune in China, where a kilo of ivory can sell for up to the equivalent of RM5,000. Routinely, the ivory is carved into decorative items sought by the well-to-do as status symbols.
Environmentalists have celebrated the Chinese government's decision to phase out the processing and selling of all ivory products in the world's most populous nation. “This is great news that will shut down the world’s largest market for elephant ivory,” said Aili Kang, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "This action by China has come as momentum has been building to close domestic ivory markets around the globe," Kang added.
The government ban will certainly be a step in the right direction, but sadly it won't mean that demand for ivory in China will suddenly dry up. What with the lucrative nature of the trade, wildlife trafficking syndicates will likely step up their illegal operations and continue to trade in ill-gotten ivory illegally.
That is why rigorous enforcement of the ban is a must. Authorities in China and elsewhere will need to continue going after poachers and traffickers so as to stop the slaughter of wild elephants once and for all.
Last year alone some 20,000 elephants were killed in Africa for their tusks. In parts of Africa wild elephants, females mostly, have responded to the selective pressure that the constant hunt for their tusks places on them by losing those tusks and passing the gene for tusklessness down to younger generations.
However, such evolutionary tricks can't work fast enough. That is why we must do our best to save all remaining elephants, in Africa and Asia, from the ravages of poaching now.