China Bans Ivory

Chris Umeki
Elephant Listening Project
3 min readFeb 26, 2017
Ahmed, over 50 yrs old. Forest elephant populations still have bulls with huge tusks — rare now in savannah elephants. © Andrea Turkalo

China recently announced a timetable for closing their domestic ivory trade, a very promising sign for Africa’s elephants. The Chinese State Council has promised that all processing and sale of ivory will cease by Dec 31, 2017 (1). In addition, government departments will increase policing of physical and online black market ivory.

Elephant Listening Project director, Peter Wrege, made the statement:

This momentous announcement gives hope to the tens of thousands of elephants that are targeted by poachers each year. Quelling the demand is the single largest action we can take to reduce poaching. China should be commended for establishing a high bar for government conservation efforts, and we urge other countries to make the same commitment. In the following months, we will be monitoring the situation to ensure that China’s promise is kept.

Although the Elephant Listening Project has exposed poaching through its acoustic monitoring, patrols in the forest have been insufficient. Anti-poaching efforts are fighting an uphill battle against the great motivator of money. China is currently the largest source of ivory demand (2), which made it a primary goal of conservationists working to effect a ban.

While holding China to its commitment, we should also keep our attention on countries that continue to allow a legal domestic ivory market. The list includes Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, and Japan.

On Feb 6, 2017 the UK Parliament discussed an online petition (3) to extend its ivory ban which, however, currently allows ivory dated before 1947. While it is better than nothing, it is still highly problematic because distinguishing between pre and post-1947 ivory is difficult, and modern ivory is often disguised as antique.

During the debate, MP Danny Kinahan made the following outrageous statement comparing a UK ban on ivory to the ISIS destruction of the ancient city of Palmyra (4).

We have watched ISIS destroying Palmyra and the Taliban destroy the two fantastic Buddha statues in Bamiyan. If we had a blanket ban, we would be a little bit on the same page, in that we would be trying to get rid of some of the most beautiful items. If ivory were banned, it would not be looked after because it would be worthless.

Many politicians across the world are not taking elephant extinction threats seriously. Let’s use this recent good news from China to continue to drive change in other countries that facilitate poaching with their ivory markets.


(1) China Announcement of Domestic Ivory Ban in 2017 — English Translation

(2) NPR: China Says It Will Shut Down Its Ivory Trade in 2017

(3) UK Parliament Petition: Shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK.

(4) E-petition 165905 relating to the domestic ivory market in the UK Luke Hall MP (Thornbury and Yate, Conservative) 17:12:45

Find out more about the Elephant Listening Project
To conserve the tropical forests of Africa through acoustic monitoring, sound science, and education, focusing on forest elephants