6 January 2014 China - Today the government of the People’s Republic of China destroyed six tons of elephant ivory drawing praise from conservation groups across Asia.
China has now become the third major wildlife consumer country to destroy a large amount of ivory in less than year after the United States and Philippine governments destroyed six and five tons respectively.
The destruction of ivory ensures it cannot re-enter the market further fueling demand for the highly sought-after product used for jewelry, decorations and religious artifacts, which often symbolize status and prosperity in China.
China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) stated the destruction of the confiscated ivory demonstrates its growing will to combat the illegal wildlife trade, a promising sign as the demand for ivory in countries such as China is fuelling the mass slaughter of the world’s elephants.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) African Elephant Specialist Group, in 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants. By 2010, only 470,000 remained.
The Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) reported that more than 30,000 African elephants were poached for their ivory in 2011 and 2012. Furthermore, the preliminary analysis of large scale ivory seizures in 2013 (500kg or more) by the Elephant Trade Information System shows a 20 per cent increase from 2011- 18 seizures totalling 41.6 tons.
If the current increase in poaching continues, experts predict the species will not survive another 50 years.
While the conservation community commends China on destroying the ivory there is still much to be done. The six tons of ivory destroyed is a small portion of the 17 tons which China Customs reported confiscating between 2010 and 2013.
Reducing demand for the illicit product remains a significant challenge. Furthermore, China is one of a few countries with a legal domestic wildlife trade market. Not only does the legal market stimulate demand but it also provides a loophole for illegally obtained ivory to enter the market, further fuelling poaching.
With relatively low penalties, lucrative poaching attracts organized crime and terrorist groups that use the money to fund other illegal activities which threaten regional security. It also endangers the lives of those protecting Asia’s and Africa’s rich biodiversity.
“Freeland applauds the Chinese Government for the appropriate disposal of a portion of their elephant ivory stockpile and encourages other parties of CITES to do the same.
"This not only sends a strong message to wildlife traffickers that the Chinese Government is taking action against the illegal ivory trade, but is also a milestone that consolidates the achievements of China Customs and enforcement agencies to combat wildlife trafficking,” said Liu Ning, Chief Operating Officer of Freeland.
Freeland works together with partners in China and in the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) countries to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products, strengthen law enforcement capacity to combat wildlife trafficking, and build and enhance regional networks.
Coordinated efforts by ASEAN-WEN have contributed to an eleven-fold increase in law enforcement actions by member countries over the last eight years – but far more work is needed.