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China imposes ivory imports ban as poaching threatens elephants

Critics slam the move as "window dressing" and say the ban should have been extended to domestic trade of the product too.
This picture taken on February 20, 2013 shows a Chinese man looking at an ivory Buddha carving at a shop in Beijing. Wang Zhao/AFP Photo
This picture taken on February 20, 2013 shows a Chinese man looking at an ivory Buddha carving at a shop in Beijing. Wang Zhao/AFP Photo

BEIJING // China has imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports with immediate effect amid criticism that its citizens’ huge appetite for the resource has fuelled poaching that threatens the existence of African elephants.

It comes ahead of next week’s visit by Great Britain’s Prince William, who is a strong critic of the ivory trade.

The state administration of forestry declared the ban on Thursday in a public notice posted on its website, in which it said it would not handle any import requests.

The ban will affect carvings acquired after 1975.

An unnamed forestry official told the state-run Legal Evening News that authorities hoped the ban would be a concrete step to reducing the demand for African tusks and to protect wild elephants.

The official said the temporary ban would allow authorities to evaluate its effect on elephant protection before they could take further, more effective steps.

China is the world’s largest importer of smuggled tusks, although Beijing has campaigned against illegal ivory. Six tons of illegal ivory was pulverised last year in the southern city of Dongguan, and Chinese courts have stepped up prosecution of illegal ivory trade.

The government has also warned its citizens not to bring any ivory into the country, but critics say the public awareness campaign is inadequate as many Chinese do not know that tusks can only obtained by killing the elephant.

Over 20,000 African elephants were killed for ivory in 2013, a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species monitoring programme showed, leaving a population believed to be around 500,000.

China signed a pact banning global trade in ivory in 1981, but received an exemption in 2008 to buy 62 tonnes of ivory from several African nations. It releases a portion of that stockpile each year to government-licensed ivory carving factories.

Since China acquired this legal stockpile, demand for ivory has surged among increasingly affluent Chinese who see it as a status-defining luxury – and high profits have fuelled a strong underground market.

Wildlife protection advocates welcomed the temporary ban on imports but said it fell short of addressing a root issue in China: its large stockpile of legal ivory that provides for a legitimate domestic market.

“This domestic ivory market confuses consumers, removes stigma about ivory consumption, provides cover for criminals to smuggle ivory, hinders law enforcement and stimulates poaching of elephants,” said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Environmental Investigation Agency, which issued a scathing report suggesting Chinese government officials were involved in the procurement of illegal ivory in Africa, called the announcement “window dressing”.

“It is unfortunate that [Chinese authorities have] not announced a much-needed policy change by banning all domestic trade in ivory,” said Shruti Suresh, a wildlife campaigner for the agency.

“This is the policy change that could actually make a difference for elephants in Africa.”

* Associated Press and Reuters

Published: February 27, 2015 04:00 AM

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