In response to growing criticism of Chinese demand for ivory, China’s State Forestry Administration has announced a one-year ban on the import of ivory carvings. The continued demand for ivory, for which China is the world’s largest market, has decimated the African elephant population, with one elephant killed every 15 minutes for its tusks. While some animal rights’ groups have hailed China’s temporary ban as a step in the right direction, it has also been criticized as nothing more than “window dressing” that fails to address the larger problems of ivory demand.
A short statement announcing the ban was published on the website of China’s State Forestry Administration, noting that the ban is specifically limited to ivory carvings, and will remain in place until February 26, 2016. According to the New York Times, an anonymous Chinese state official told media that the ban has been implemented “to let the authorities evaluate a ban’s effectiveness in protecting African elephants.”
There is significant concern as to how this ban will be implemented. Peter Lehrner , Executive Director of the NRDC, explained in a statement that the ban “could be a real victory in helping to reduce poaching and wildlife trafficking… But, China has ample stockpiles of ivory that it can still release into the legal market while the ban is in place. The domestic market those stockpiles create needs to be limited for real change to take place.”
Indeed, in 2008 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or Cites, permitted China to buy 68 tons of African ivory, with the Chinese government claiming that a domestic trade in approved ivory would ultimately save elephants by providing cheaper, legally obtained tusks. But the effort failed, rather spectacularly, and the price of ivory has tripled is the last four years alone.
And so, without a ban on the domestic trade of ivory, the Chinese appetite for ivory will continue. This could, some argue, mean that the year-long moratorium will fail to show any effectiveness at protecting African elephants. Ms. Suresh of the Environmental Investigation Organization, voiced her concerns to the New York Times, explaining that Beijing officials could use the results of the import ban to call for the reopening of the international trade in ivory.
While the ban is, on the face a positive step, more work is still to be done—as Lehrner explained “more still needs to be done to restrict the sale – and reduce demand for – elephant ivory in China, the United States, and around the world. Until we cut off people’s desire for ivory, elephants will continue to die.”