In what could be a game changer for elephants, China just announced plans to end its ivory trade by the end of the year. In just three years, 100,000 elephants were slaughtered by poachers for their ivory – much of which ended up in China. That’s set to end this March, as the country will stop processing and trading ivory, giving real hope to the world’s threatened elephant populations.

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“China’s announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation,” said Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund. “The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years, and the future is brighter for wild elephants.” Every year, at least 20,000 elephants are killed for their ivory, causing the world elephant population to drop from 1.2 million 35 years ago to just 40-50,000 now. Scientists believe that the future of elephants lies in the hands of China. The elimination of one of the world’s largest ivory markets will ease pressure on elephant populations.

Related: Elephants may be doomed to extinction with EU opposition to global ivory ban

There are some concerns, however, that ending the ivory trade in China may have a negative impact, depending on how the country handles the transition. It could drive the price of ivory up, increasing the perceived value, and if nearby markets like Vietnam don’t take similar steps, ivory buyers could simply travel to a neighboring country. The good news is that, if done right, the measure could cause the price of ivory to collapse, allowing elephant populations to recover.

Via Washington Post and NYT

images via USFWS and Jon Mountjoy