Elephants, rejoice: China is making a major effort to kick its nasty ivory habit.
On Friday, the Chinese government is slated to shutter more than two dozen factories that carve ivory. Authorities have also committed to closing all retail outlets for ivory jewelry and goods by the end of the year.
Despite the devastating toll on elephants, China’s ivory market — the world’s largest — has long been legal. In late 2016, however, the government agreed to shut down its ivory trade to help stem the bloodshed of African elephants and save them from extinction.
Across Africa, elephant populations have plunged from about 1.3 million in the 1970s to less than 500,000 today due to poaching and habitat loss, conservationists estimate.
“This is a critical period for elephants. With the end of the legal ivory trade in China, the survival chances for elephants have distinctly improved,” Iain Douglas-Hamilton, president and founder of the conservation group Save the Elephants, said this week in a news release.
“There is still a long way to go to end the excessive killing of elephants for ivory, but there is now greater hope for the species,” he said.
Ivory prices in China have dropped sharply as a result of the new policy, Save the Elephants found in a new report. The falling prices reflect a decrease in demand for ivory.
The wholesale price of raw ivory in China dropped by almost two-thirds in the last three years, from an average of $2,100 per kilogram in 2014 to just $370 per kilogram in February.
Lucy Vigne, a researcher from Save the Elephants, said findings from 2015 and 2016 show that China’s legal ivory trade “has been severely diminished.” Thanks to law enforcement efforts, “We have seen a decline in the number of illegal ivory items on display for sale since 2013,” she said in the news release.
China’s 130 licensed outlets have steadily reduced the amount of ivory items on display and are cutting prices to boost sales, Vigne said. Other vendors had replaced elephant ivory displays with mammoth ivory dug out of the Russian tundra.
Apart from China’s new ivory ban, the nation’s economic slowdown has also resulted in fewer people being able to afford luxury items. A crackdown on government corruption has discouraged business people from plying government officials with ivory “favors,” the conservation group said.
Still, this doesn’t mean the Chinese have fully kicked their appetite for ivory.
Previous research on the ivory trade in Hong Kong and Vietnam showed that more than three-fourths of the buyers were actually mainland Chinese tourists who smuggled the ivory home. Save the Elephants said the government’s ability to stop illegal trading and enforce the new rules will help determine the effectiveness of China’s ban.
Wildlife authorities in Kenya, a major hub of ivory smuggling, welcomed the news of China’s falling ivory prices.
“Once they don’t have an appetite for ivory, it will no longer be attractive to kill elephants,” Patrick Omondi of the Kenya Wildlife Service told the Associated Press.