China’s recent ban of all domestic ivory trade and processing by the end of 2017 offers a glimmer of optimism in the fight against elephant poaching. The decision will disrupt the global’s major marketplace for the product, as it will compel legal ivory processing industries to close down.
The ban will put in place strict mechanisms of ivory collection and disallow the display of ivory products in physical and virtual markets. With only about 415,000 elephants remaining in Africa, the step is crucial in ensuring the long-term survival of one of the continent’s most iconic species.
For a long time, notable entities such as Interpol, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Clinton Global Initiative, the European Union and the Duke of Cambridge, among others — had tried to tackle elephant poaching. And African governments have increasingly been cracking down on poachers and traffickers. But these were not enough to halt this crisis.
It is China that has always held the key to unlocking — or should we say, locking up — this despicable crisis. China is, after all, the world’s largest ivory bazaar, with approximately 70 per cent of the product ending up in the country. By setting a specific end date for its ivory trade, Beijing has sent a strong signal that ivory’s rightful place is on an elephant and not as a decorative item in someone’s home.
This shows Beijing is making good on its commitment to the African Union and African States during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to cooperate in combating poaching and illegal trade in wildlife.
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At 2015 FOCAC Summit, China and African states committed to conserve Africa’s wildlife – this is reflected in the 2016-2018 Action Plan proposed by 6th Ministerial Conference in Johannesburg and their recognition of the need to tackle local poaching and international organised crime, highlighting specific actions to be taken around poaching and trafficking of ivory and rhino horn.
China needs to extend its collaboration with African countries to conserve natural wild land habitats by strengthening and expanding the continent’s protected area system for wildlife, ecosystem services, tourism, the benefit of surrounding communities, and a sustainable, equitable future.
China, beyond ivory ban, should support Africa in strengthening the coexistence of wildlife and human industries. The African Wildlife Foundation has been working with African ambassadors in Beijing to make this an important part of China-Africa diplomacy. We have convened groups of African and Chinese businesses and civil society leaders regarding the opportunities for cooperation on African conservation and development challenges.