China Declares an End to Its War on Elephants

December 31st, 2016 - by admin

Elly Pepper / NRDC & Daniel Stiles / Natural Resources Defense Council – 2016-12-31 14:57:01

Game Changer for Elephants: China to Ban Ivory Trade by End of 2017
Elly Pepper / Natural Resources Defense Council

(December 30, 2016) — In what may be the biggest sign of hope for elephants since the current poaching crisis began, the Chinese government, today, announced a one-year timeline for its promised domestic ivory ban. According to the notice, China will begin phasing out registered legal ivory processors and traders by March 31, 2017 and shut down its legal commercial ivory trade completely by December 31, 2017.

Today’s announcement comes as a result of the Chinese government’s promise to end its ivory market in early 2015 and commitment to deliver a timeline for its ivory ban by the end of the year at the 2016 US-China Strategic and Economic (S&ED).

Demand for elephant ivory has skyrocketed in recent years, spurring poaching levels that are driving elephants towards extinction. And ending the legal ivory trade in China — the world’s largest consumer of elephant ivory — is critical to saving the species. Indeed, as we’ve seen in the US, legal ivory markets only perpetuate the illegal market.

According to today’s announcement, after the market closes, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help transition ivory sector employees to other livelihoods. For example, famous “master carvers” will be encouraged to work in museums and other entities to repair and maintain ivory works of significant artistic and cultural value. The Chinese government will also strengthen the management of legally-possessed ivory products.

For example, ivory products will only be displayed in museums and art galleries for non-commercial purposes or exhibition. China will still allow ivory to be gifted and inherited. Finally, China’s Forestry Department and Police, Customs, and Market Control Department will ramp up enforcement and education to prevent illegal processing, selling, and transporting of ivory. This will involve market investigations and inspections and shutting down both physical and online illegal ivory-trading channels. It will also entail educating the public about the importance of rejecting ivory and ivory products.

Now, it’s crucial other countries with domestic ivory markets, including the UK, follow China’s lead and shut them down. Even the US, which has largely closed its ivory market by banning the ivory trade at the federal level and in many states (e.g., HI, NY, OR, WA, NJ), can do more in the way of enforcement, while also helping other countries follow suit.

As recognized in resolutions agreed to by many countries and leading conservation experts at the IUCN World Conservation Congress and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), domestic ivory bans are critical to stopping the poaching of elephants. And while China is one piece of the puzzle, all countries must work together to end the global ivory trade if we hope to bring elephants back from the brink.

Elephant Ivory Trafficking in California, USA
Daniel Stiles / Natural Resources Defense Council

Investigators comprehensively surveyed commercial vendors selling ivory in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California, which previous surveys identified as the US cities with the highest proportions of potentially illegal ivory pieces and the largest ivory markets overall, behind New York City. The data collection for this study was carried out between March 15 and April 11, 2014.

A total of over 1,250 ivory items offered for sale by 107 vendors was seen in California, with 777 items and 77 vendors in Los Angeles and well over 473 ivory items and 30 vendors in San Francisco. In Los Angeles, between 77% and 90% of the ivory seen was likely illegal under California law (i.e., post- 1977) and between 47% and 60% could have been illegal under federal law.

In San Francisco, approximately 80% of the ivory was likely illegal under California law and 52% could have been illegal under federal law. There is a much higher incidence of what appears to be ivory of recent manufacture in California, roughly doubling from approximately 25% in 2006 to about half in 2014. In addition, many of the ivory items seen for sale in California advertised as antiques (i.e., more than 100 years old) appear to be more likely from recently killed elephants.

Most of the ivory products surveyed appear to have originated in East Asia. While consumer demand for ivory items remains high, there are significantly fewer vendors in California selling ivory items than in 2006. Finally, both federal and state law enforcement of existing ivory laws in California appears to be minimal and there is widespread confusion among vendors about what constitutes the legal and illegal sale of ivory.

The illegal killing of elephants for ivory, commonly known as ivory poaching, has reached alarming proportions in Africa.

A recent study estimated that over 100,000 African elephants were killed in just three years from 2010 through 2012. And a series of elephant population surveys in Central Africa led to the conclusion that the African Forest Elephant ( Loxodonta cyclotis ) declined in number by over 60% between 2002 and 2011, primarily due to ivory poaching.

3 Parts of eastern Africa have also been seriously affected, and recent elephant population surveys have shown that elephants declined in Tanzania’s Selous ecosystem – Africa’s largest protected area – from 55,000 in 2007, to 39,000 in 2009, to only 13,000 in 2013, mostly due to poaching.

Southern Africa, a long-time haven for elephants, has not been spared and poaching and ivory trafficking have increased in recent years.

Likewise, seizures of illegal ivory have increased since 2009, particularly of large (i.e., >500 kg) shipments.

For example, in 2013, more than 41 metric tons of ivory were apprehended in 18 seizures of over 500 kilograms each, representing a minimum of 4,000 elephants — the highest number by far since records began in the 1990s.

The increased incidents of large seizures are just one of a series of indicators showing that organized criminal networks have become increasingly involved in elephant poaching. Indeed, as elephant poaching – and wildlife trafficking in general – has become increasingly lucrative, terrorist groups have turned to poaching to finance their military operations. Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army in Uganda – which abducted over 440 people in 2013 alone – has been linked to wildlife poaching, as have M-23 and the Janjaweed militia in Sudan.

Ivory being imported into the United States comes in two forms: “raw” ivory, which are unadulterated elephant tusks, and “worked” ivory, which are carved pieces of ivory — typically figurines or netsuke, which are miniature sculptures invented in 17th century Japan.

A series of quantitative ivory market surveys carried out since 1999, supplemented by ivory seizure data analyses by TRAFFIC’s Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), show that the principal demand region driving ivory poaching is East Asia, in particular China-Hong Kong and Thailand.

Notwithstanding the importance of East Asia in driving ivory demand, Martin and Stiles (2008) concluded that the United States has the second largest ivory market in the world, after China-Hong Kong.

Based on visual inspection and interviews with informants, they estimated that as much as 30% of the ivory items they observed for sale in the United States could have been illegal under federal law. California, in particular, is a major hub for the illegal ivory trade in the United States, with San Francisco and Los Angeles ranking as the largest ivory markets with the highest proportions of potentially illegal pieces, behind New York City.

Concerned about the rise in elephant poaching and the role of the United States in driving the upsurge, the Natural Resources Defense Council has sponsored a new ivory market study of San Francisco and Los Angeles. The purpose of the study is to ascertain the current ivory trade in California and estimate what proportion might be illegal.

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