(ELEPHANTS/WILDLIFE POACHING) CHINA — Wildlife conservationists received their first piece of good news this year from an unexpected source. The Chinese government destroyed 6.15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized from the illegal ivory trade that is quickly decimating African elephant populations.

This public destruction of ivory is part of an encouraging pattern taking place in China—the world’s largest consumer of trafficked ivory—and makes a serious statement about the government’s commitment to stamping out the illegal ivory trade. Read on for more on the country’s plans to strengthen law enforcement and reinforce international action against poaching and wildlife trafficking. — Global Animal

Police man stands watch as ivory is destroyed in the background. Photo: AFP
A police officer stands watch as seized ivory is destroyed behind him. Photo: AFP

World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Guangdong, China — The Chinese government today destroyed 6.15 tonnes of elephant ivory seized from illegal trade in a move signalling that China is firmly behind international action to address rampant elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade. The country is the world’s biggest consumer of trafficked ivory, most of which comes from elephants killed in Africa.

“The destruction of seized ivory makes an important public statement that, in conjunction with other government-led efforts to reduce demand, has the potential to have a significant impact on the illegal market for ivory,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s ivory trade expert.

China has previously indicated it is prepared to clamp down hard against the illegal ivory trade: the ivory destruction takes place just weeks after eight Chinese citizens were convicted and sentenced to 3 to 15 years imprisonment for smuggling a total of 3.2 tonnes of ivory.

Fan Zhiyong, Head of WWF-China’s Species Programme said:

A Thai customs official shows ivory seized by the customs office in 2012 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Photo Credit: Reuters
A Thai customs official shows ivory seized by the customs office in 2012 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Photo Credit: Reuters

“WWF believes that destroying seized ivory is a signal of the government’s commitment to enhance law enforcement against illegal ivory trade that will support international action against elephant poaching and illegal wildlife trade.”

“Tens of thousands of African elephants are being killed by poachers because of the high demand of ivory. China’s gesture is a solemn commitment by the government to cleanse the Chinese ivory market and to guarantee the survival of Africa’s elephants.”

Although China has a legal ivory market based on stocks that pre-date the 1989 international ivory trade ban and a sanctioned “one-off” ivory sale with four African countries in 2008, under rules of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), seized ivory cannot be used for commercial purposes.

“China’s actions, more than those of any other country, have the potential to reverse the rising trends of elephant poaching and illegal ivory trafficking,” said Milliken.

Government officials, together with observers including representatives from several embassies in China, CITES, United Nations Environment Programme China Office, IUCN China office, and international non-governmental organizations including WWF and TRAFFIC, attended the ivory crushing ceremony earlier today.

An elephant forages at the Tsavo East National Park last year, the scene of the latest mass shooting which saw a family of 11 of the animals die.
An elephant forages at the Tsavo East National Park last year. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Gabon, the Philippines and the United States have all recently destroyed ivory stockpiles, while France has also signalled its intention to do so too.

WWF and TRAFFIC believe that best practice and transparency in the destruction of ivory stockpiles should transpire in the context of a robust ivory stock management system. Rigorous documentation of all ivory stocks should be maintained and a detailed stock inventory of the ivory to be destroyed should be produced. Independent audits can ensure that the quantity slated for destruction actually corresponds to the amount that is destroyed, to provide assurances that ivory does not find its way back into illegal markets, further feeding illegal trade.

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For more information, view the video clip from Reuters below.