World / Reporter's Journal

New ivory ban extensions make more steps in right direction

By Chris Davis (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-03-23 10:51

The worldwide effort to save the magnificent African elephant from being butchered into extinction is a complex war with many fronts. While experts continually sound an urgent alarm that more has to be done and quicker, every little bit still helps.

As China Daily reports today, Beijing has taken a further step to hobble the legal ivory trade by banning imports of ivory - worked or unworked - acquired before July 1, 1975, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora took effect.

The ban took effect on Sunday and will last through the last day of 2019, China's wildlife watchdog, the State Forestry Administration (SFA), announced on Tuesday. What happens after that is not clear.

New ivory ban extensions make more steps in right direction

The move is being called a further step following two actions taken in February and October of last year, when the administration imposed separate one-year bans - one on imported ivory acquired after July 1, 1975, and the other on ivory acquired by trophy hunting in Africa.

In its statement, the SFA said that those two bans could not prevent ivory and related items pillaged and stockpiled by countries during the colonization of Africa from finding their way into China.

"If we don't put ivory and carved-ivory items acquired before July 1, 1975, on the import blacklist, we can't stop people from making illegal profits by selling ivory and related products in China," the SFA statement read.

Thankfully, the administration also said that those two previous one-year bans would be extended to Dec 31, 2019.

The caveat is that activities with no commercial purpose - such as public exhibitions, scientific research and cultural exchange - would not be affected by the new measures.

Yan Xun, chief engineer at the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserve Management under the SFA, said the new move shows that the Chinese government has adopted a stricter approach and a harder line toward elephant protection.

According to the SFA's self-evaluations, the previous temporary bans on imported ivory have produced positive results, such as the international community better understanding China's stance on the ivory trade.

The bans also raised public awareness of wildlife protection and lowering the number of cases of Chinese citizens bringing back ivory products from other countries, the administration claimed.

The Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce, known as TRAFFIC, said the consumption of ivory within China has changed since last year's temporary bans.

Also helping to improve the situation is an agreement between China and the United States - made during President Xi Jinping's state visit to the US in September - that almost completely bans the ivory trade and significantly restricts importing ivory obtained as hunting trophies.

TRAFFIC quoted, an e-commerce antiques and collectibles platform with 1.7 million registered users, as saying that the trade volume of ivory for investment has dropped noticeably.

Zhang Shanning, a senior official of the Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office of China, said on March 11 that China will fulfill its commitment to banning the ivory trade. "Without a timetable, it doesn't mean we are not making any progress," Zhang said.

Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia director with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said it welcomes the expanded import ban of pre-convention ivory and extensions of the other bans.

"They are important steps to demonstrate China's determination to join the world in condemning ivory trade," she said.

Conservationist Ronald Orenstein, author of the book Ivory, Horn and Blood: Behind the Elephant and Rhinocerous Poaching Crisis, also commended China's new move, but added: "The most important step [Beijing] could take, though, would be to end the legal sales of ivory within the country."

As Gabriel explained, allowing a domestic ivory market to continue "provides cover for criminals to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants, puts the burden of proof on enforcement officers, and confuses consumers, many of whom take market availability of ivory for legality of the trade."

To Gabriel, the solution is nothing short of "clear laws making ivory trade illegal in all circumstances, combined with vigorous enforcement and meaningful penalties that can stigmatize ivory consumption and contribute to demand reduction."

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