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China's Pledge to End the Ivory Trade: Why it Matters

In statements made this week by a top Chinese official to the Washington PostChina has pledged a high-level commitment to ending its current legal commercial ivory trade.

While a concrete timetable has yet to be developed, the official, Dr. Meng Xianlin of the CITES Management Authority of China, confirmed the action could happen "very quickly."

WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants, who have mounted the world’s largest ivory public awareness campaign with Chinese media, have welcomed this action in the fight to save African elephants from rampant poaching. An estimated 33,000 elephants are being killed every year to supply ivory markets in China, Thailand, Hong Kong, the U.S. and other nations.

"Ending legal sales of ivory in China is the greatest single step that can be taken to reduce elephant poaching in Africa and we hope it can happen as soon as possible. We applaud China for its leadership and will continue to work closely with Chinese state and private media in our campaigns to reduce demand for ivory," WildAid CEO Peter Knights said.

The new details of China’s commitment to end the trade come as officials destroyed over 1,400 lbs. of confiscated ivory at a Beijing event on May 29. Minister of the State Forestry Administration Zhao Shucong announced at the event that China would “strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”

The June 5 Washington Post article by Simon Denyer further clarified China’s plans to reduce the five tons of stockpiled legal ivory supplied to carving workshops each year until a zero annual quota is reached. 

Poaching escalated rapidly following a “one-off” legal sale of ivory to China in 2008. A recent survey in China found that awareness of poaching as a problem had gone up over 50% in the last two years, and that 95% of Chinese surveyed were supportive of a total ban on sales.

A survey of Hong Kong residents released last week showed similar findings: 75% of poll respondents said they support a comprehensive ban on ivory sales. (Click here for more info on the University of Hong Kong-Public Opinion Program survey, commissioned by WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants.) 

The three groups are running a major public awareness campaign throughout mainland China to reduce the demand for ivory. The campaign uses public service announcements, billboards and subway ads featuring some of China’s biggest celebrities, including former NBA superstar Yao Ming, action hero Jackie Chan and top Chinese actress Li Bingbing, as well as The Duke of Cambridge (Prince William), David Beckham and others.

Last month, WildAid released a new PSA featuring world-famous Chinese pianist Lang Lang in conjunction with a campaign by Beijing Airport Customs urging travelers against bringing ivory into China.