The First Good News Of 2018 Concerns Elephants And Their Tusks

Exactly one year ago a very positive news emerged from East Asia and brought a sunshine of hope for those who fight for environment and animals. China had declared a ban on illegal ivory trade. The announcement came as a major boost to the efforts of the activists calling for an end to poaching of elephants in Africa — the only continent other than Asia where the mammoth pachyderms are found.

Credit: Creative Commons

On December 31, 2016 China had said that the ban will be fully in effect by the end of 2017 — a full 27 years after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora banned ivory trade. On December 31, 2017 media around the world started hailing China for keeping its promise.

Why was this ban important and why is the mainstream media hailing it? The simple answer is that China is the world’s biggest consumer of ivory. The demand for the precious tusk is so high in China that many conservationists blame the country for the deaths of elephants at the hands of poachers.

Between 2012 and 2014, poachers had killed around 100,000 elephants (roughly 33,000 per year) for ivory which was then shipped off to Chinese markets for customers, many of whom believe that the dentine is the solution for certain medical maladies. Besides that, ivory products are seen as a status symbol among China’s elites.

Credit: Great Elephant Census

Thus when China declared their intention of banning ivory trade in the country, the good folks of the world applauded.

As part of enforcing the ban, authorities in China shut down legal factories and shops, numbering around 172, dealing in ivory thereby bringing the prices down by as much as 65%. An extensive campaign involving Chinese celebrities helped make the people aware of how ivory trade was triggering the extinction of a very beautiful animal.

The WWF called China’s step “significant” adding that it is delighted to see the “doors of the world’s largest ivory market close”. WorldAid CEO Peter Knights hailed the ban as the “single largest step towards reducing elephant poaching”.

Yet while congratulations pour in from around the world for China, fears of the continuation of the trade have not been fully assuaged. The reason is that Hong Kong is yet to ban the legal sale of ivory. The Special Administrative Region is the largest (and preferred) market for buyers from mainland China. But Hong Kong is planning to impose a similar ban on ivory by 2021. A vote to do the same will be held this year. There is a very strong chance that Hong Kong will go through with its proposed ban.

Credit: International Fund for Animal Welfare/Creative Commons

But at the same time other Southeast Asian nations are taking advantage of the closure of shops and factories in China. Save the Elephants discovered that the market in Laos has increased much faster than other nations. And that is why many are questioning whether China’s ban will mean the end of ivory trade and poaching of elephants. Certainly, there is no doubt that the ivory trade will continue; if not legally then illegally, if not in China then just outside of China, if not forever then for some time. For as long as there are buyers there will be sellers.

In 2007, a non-profit had discovered that many Chinese do not even know that ivory means death to elephants. This is why China’s drive of educating the people of the harm their quest for ivory is doing to the wildlife is significant, and it is helping. Reports reveal that people in China have become more sensitive to the reality that poachers kill elephants to extract the ivory.

And while the fear of more sellers cropping up in the poorer Southeast Asian nations remain, a drive is on to end the sales in much wealthier countries, for example the United Kingdom. The ivory brought into the country during the Colonial times when the British plundered all of Africa is still traded. According to those demanding a complete ban on sale of ivory in the UK, the country is the largest exporter of antique ivory products.

Conservationists want a blanket ban on sales of everything made from ivory with some exceptions. Until that happens, they argue, demand for ivory will not end which would facilitate the mushrooming of illegal ivory traders in other countries. It is a serious concern because if the illegal trade continues, smugglers will thrive in the poorer Southeast Asian nations where implementation of the law is more difficult than in China, and that means poachers will still continue to kill the gentle giants.

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