Con­ser­va­tion­ists say that China’s new pol­icy could save ele­phants


Con­ser­va­tion­ists hail it as a pos­si­ble game-changer in the strug­gle to curb the slaugh­ter of ele­phants: an un­ex­pected pledge by a se­nior Chi­nese of­fi­cial to stop the ivory trade in a coun­try whose vast, in­creas­ingly af­flu­ent con­sumer mar­ket drives ele­phant poach­ing across Africa.

Now they are wait­ing in sus­pense for China to out­line how and when it would ban an in­dus­try that crim­i­nal syn­di­cates use as cover for their il­licit busi­ness in tusks.

The ban could hap­pen in 2017 when a le­gal stock­pile of ivory in China is pos­si­bly de­pleted, pre­dicted Zhou Fei, head of the China of­fice of TRAF­FIC, a wildlife trade mon­i­tor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. He said he is en­cour­aged by the po­lit­i­cal will of China’s top lead­er­ship to com­bat poach­ing that, by some es­ti­mates, has killed more than 100,000 African ele­phants in the past sev­eral years and prompted gov­ern­ments to pub­licly de­stroy con­fis­cated ivory in ma­jor cities, in­clud­ing New York City last week.

The May 29 com­ment by Zhao Shu­cong, head of China’s State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion, came at a Bei­jing event in which 660 kilo­grams of ivory were crushed, ren­der­ing tusks, carved stat­ues and other or­na­ments use­less for sale.

“Un­der the le­gal frame­work of CITES and do­mes­tic laws and reg­u­la­tions, we will strictly con­trol ivory pro­cess­ing and trade un­til the com­mer­cial pro­cess­ing and sale of ivory and its prod­ucts are even­tu­ally halted,” Zhao said in an English­language trans­la­tion of his speech that was pro­vided by his of­fice.

CITES is the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which seeks to reg­u­late the multi­bil­lion dol­lar trade in wild an­i­mals and plants. China al­lows trade in ivory ac­quired be­fore a 1989 CITES ban and from a one­time, CITESap­proved pur­chase by China and Ja­pan of an ivory stock­pile from sev­eral African coun­tries in 2008. Con­ser­va­tion groups say China’s illegal trade has since flour­ished.

“The fact that China is now talk­ing about shut­ting down its own mar­ket could be huge,” Ginette Hem­ley, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of wildlife con­ser­va­tion at the World Wildlife Fund, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Hem­ley said, though, that a to­tal ban was not “some­thing that can hap­pen overnight” and that it should be im­ple­mented care­fully to pre­vent crim­i­nal groups fun­nel­ing as much ivory as pos­si­ble through the le­gal sys­tem be­fore it ends.

“Ma­jor mea­sures” on Wildlife


In his speech, Zhao re­ferred to an ivory trade ban as the sev­enth of 10 “ma­jor mea­sures” on wildlife con- ser­va­tion, in­clud­ing tougher law en­force­ment and pub­lic­ity cam­paigns aimed at Chi­nese abroad. The State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion has rel­a­tively lim­ited re­sources and would re­quire the sup­port of mul­ti­ple Chi­nese gov­ern­ment agen­cies to en­force a ban.

China has backed an ivory-carv­ing in­dus­try as part of its cul­tural her­itage, and Zhao did not say whether that in­dus­try, a valu­able source of jobs, would also end.

In an email to the AP, Zhou of TRAF­FIC China said he is con­fi­dent about his 2017 pre­dic­tion be­cause he heard more en­cour­ag­ing com­ments from Zhao at a meet­ing last week on an anti-poach­ing op­er­a­tion dubbed Cobra III that net­ted sev­eral hun­dred ar­rests across Asia, Africa and Europe. Zhou said other fac­tors in­flu­enc­ing China as it con­sid­ers an ivory trade ban are in­ter­na­tional pres­sure and “the ben­e­fit of le­gal trade vs. dam­age of illegal trade to China.”


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Dan Ashe, left, Un­der Sec­re­tary of State for Eco­nomic Growth, Energy and the En­vi­ron­ment Cather­ine A. Novellu, cen­ter, and Chi­nese State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tor Min­is­ter Zhao Shu­cong, right, look at items made from rhi­noc­eros horns dur­ing a press preview of con­fis­cated wildlife con­tra­band dur­ing the U.S. China Strate­gic and Eco­nomic Di­a­logue (S&ED) at the State Depart­ment in Washington, Wed­nes­day, June 24.

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