Ban ivory trade, China’s New Year present to Elephants

I am overwhelmed with joy, even though this announcement has been much anticipated.

I read and re-read the text on the red letterhead of the Central Government office, pinching myself, trying to believe this is really happening.

Images of elephants, hundreds of them gunned down by poachers just to supply the ivory market, flashed in front of my eyes.

Voices of an ivory trader pushing a crudely carved ivory trinket floated in my ear, “It is like ‘White Gold’. I promise you if you buy it today, your investment will triple next year.”

Hong Kong Customs seized two large ivory shipments of similar weight (3.9 and 3.8 tons) in 2006 and 2012 respectively. But the second seizure contained twice as many elephant tusks than the first one. I cried when the harsh realization dawned on me that poachers are killing baby elephants for their tiny tusks!

I unfortunately had a front row seat to witness the entire disaster unveiling after CITES approved the second ivory “one-off” ivory sale to Japan and China which made the trickle of demand become a flood.

The legal ivory market provides cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants. Illegal ivory can be easily whitewashed in the legal market creating enforcement difficulties. The legal ivory market also sends a confusing message to consumers that it is ok to buy ivory. In China I witnessed as the appreciation of the ivory carving craftsmanship shifted to ivory as a material.

To stop the slaughter of elephants, we have to break every link on the trade chain—from poaching to trafficking to demand.

In China, our public outreach campaign “Mom, I have teeth” touched hundreds of millions of people in four years and reduced the propensity of the group most likely to purchase ivory from 54% to 26%. But while outreach campaigns can change consumer behavior they cannot stop criminals from making a profit from illegal smuggling and trade of ivory.

We realized early on that having a clear policy making ivory trade illegal in all circumstances is as important as changing consumer behavior to reject ivory.

In addition to reducing consumer demand, we also have to reduce market supply.

Some of the important milestones in this include:

  • IFAW working with e-commerce giants like Alibaba and Taobao to put a series of wildlife parts and products including ivory and rhino horn into “prohibited from trade” list.
  • Acting on IFAW’s tipoff, the government shut down the auction market for tiger bone, rhino horn and elephant ivory in 2012, resulting in a 90% reduction of ivory sales in mainland China’s auction market.
  • Key Opinion Leaders from all sectors of the Chinese society joining IFAW’s campaign “Give peace to elephants, say no to ivory”, speaking with one voice to urge consumers to reject ivory, carvers to stop using ivory and the government to ban ivory trade.
  • Two months after the US government destroyed 6 tons of ivory in Denver, Chinese government destroying 6.1 tons of ivory in Guangdong.
  • Stopping ivory trade to save elephants became a topic for the first time in the Sino US Strategic Dialogue, resulting in the joint pledge by President Obama and President Xi to close domestic ivory markets in both countries.

Today’s announcement demonstrates the Chinese government’s determination to save elephants. As I mentioned in my blog witnessing the US destruction of ivory in Denver November 2013, the survival of elephants depends on our collective stand against ALL IVORY TRADE.

I feel incredibly proud for the country of my birth, China, for taking the global leadership role in saving elephants. 

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