Ivory trade declared illegal in the largest consuming country

The animal rights movement secured a major victory on Dec. 31 when the Chinese government declared ivory trade and sales illegal within the country. Imports of all ivory, regardless of source, and all domestic sales are no longer allowed.

According to National Geographic, China has been the world’s leading consumer of ivory for decades, as the product is an integral part of the nation’s material culture and economic heritage. This extensive use contributes heavily to the yearly slaughter of approximately 30,000 African elephants.

Recently, however, China has attempted to alter public perception of the product through a national anti-ivory campaign. The goal is to make people aware of the harm harvesting ivory causes.

Considering its initial success, the program appears to be working.

“Since the ban was announced, the price of ivory has gone significantly down, clearly contributing toward the decline in poaching of elephants we have seen through 2017,” said Petter Granli, president and CEO of the research, conservation and advocacy group Elephant Voices. “So it is fair to say that the ban has been a success, assuming that the Chinese government continues to enforce it strictly.”

Several scholars believe that the campaign marks the beginning of a larger conversation about poaching.

“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 and anthropology at Yale University to National Geographic.

Some conservationists warn that the ban won’t stop poaching entirely.

“The change in policy in China far from solves the problem fully, though, even if it reduces it,” said Granli.

The Chinese word for ivory, xiangya, translates to elephant tooth, leading some to think that harvesting ivory is harmless. A poll by The International Fund for Animal Welfare found that 70 percent of China’s residents did not realize harvesting ivory kills elephants.

Despite this challenge, advocates feel encouraged by ongoing progress.

“We do see this as a great first step to hopefully a cascade of change that’s going to be happening,” said PETA spokesperson Amber Canavan.

One key to collapsing the ivory market would be for other countries with high demand for ivory to join the ban. PETA reports that countries such as Thailand and Vietnam have yet to accept the ban.

“China took the first step, and it needs to feel that other countries are supporting it and also stepping up to the plate,” said Asia Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare Grace Ge Gabriel to The Washington Post.

“These campaigns will hopefully fuel Hong Kong’s legislator’s decisions to follow in the steps of its country by choosing compassion,” said Canavan. “We are hopeful that other countries who have ivory markets will join China in banning ivory.”

After this interview, news broke that Hong Kong accepted the ban and will impliment it in 2021.

Conservationists note a need for strict adherence to the ban for continued success

“The most efficient way of moving forward for any country is to introduce and fully implement total trade bans,” said Granli. “And give a clear signal that we cannot let more elephants die or populations go extinct due to greed and unnecessary, morally unacceptable trade in ivory.”

Until then, advocates will continue educational and promotional efforts similar to China’s anti-ivory campaign.

“Maybe (banning) ivory is the start to people finally understanding how awful and destructive it is to make animal products like so,” said Kelly McLaughlin, senior and secretary of Guilford College ROAR, an animal rights advocacy and support group. “All we can do is educate more people every day and continue to love.”

While elephants are not yet completely safe from poaching, animal rights advocates believe this ban will spark more efforts against the act.

“Communication, awareness and education are the main keys to giving animals the justice they deserve, and that is exactly what this ban has begun doing,” said Amy Loomis, senior and president of ROAR. “This gives me faith for the future.”