A ban on all sales of ivory products in China – the world’s largest importer and end user of elephant tusks – takes effect on Sunday, December 31, a move hailed by conservationists as an important step in the fight to protect endangered species such as African elephants.
China has long been one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory, but as of 2018 all trade in ivory and ivory products in the country is illegal.
The Asian country had announced in 2016 that it would outlaw all domestic trade and processing by the end of 2017.
As of December 31, China’s legal, government-sanctioned ivory trade will come to a close. All of the country’s licensed ivory carving factories and retailers will be shuttered in accordance with a landmark 2015 announcement from Chinese President Xi Jinping and then U.S. President Barack Obama.
It is understood that China and the U.S. both agreed to “near-complete” ivory bans, which prohibit the buying and selling of all but a limited number of antiques and a few other items.
While the U.S.’s ivory ban went into effect in June 2016, that of China took effect yesterday, December 31, 2017.
The move came after pressure that its vast demand for ivory – seen as a status symbol by some in the country – fuels elephant poaching in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.
“Decades from now, we may point back to this as one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation”, Ginette Hemley, senior vice president for wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement on Saturday.
“China has followed through on a great promise it made to the world, offering hope for the future of elephants.”
This year, ivory prices in China were about 65 percent lower than 2014 levels, said WildAid, with retailers in some places trying to sell off stocks and offering heavy discounts before the ban.
“The Chinese government’s ban on its domestic ivory trade sends a message to the general public in China that the life of elephants is more important than the ivory carving culture,” said Gao Yufang, a Ph.D. student in conservation biology and cultural anthropology at Yale University and a National Geographic Explorer, in an email. “This is a significant step forward.”
The Chinese ban has been hailed by activists but they warn that Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, remains a big obstacle to the eradication of elephant poaching.
China’s ban on sales does not apply in the former British colony, which has the largest retail market for ivory and has traded it for more than 150 years.
Hong Kong is a prime transit and consumption hub for ivory with more than 90 percent of consumers from mainland China.