For the first time ever, China has committed to phasing out the legal manufacture and sale of ivory. Conservation groups have applauded the measure as the single greatest effort in the fight to “save the last of the African elephants from poaching,” according to The Guardian. Recently, foreign diplomats watched 1,459 pounds of ivory symbolically destroyed and Zhao Shucong, the head of China’s State Forestry Administration said that China will strictly control the processing of ivory and the trade until the practice is eventually stopped.

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Peter Knights, the executive director of WildAid, said that this was a significant step but he would wait to see if the measure was carried out. China did not say just when the phase-out would begin or end, even though eliminating the supply of ivory for products in China is seen as a critical step to saving the world’s wild elephant population. “In our recent survey, 95 percent of Chinese supported a total ban on ivory sales. This would be the next logical step for China, as well as the greatest single measure to reduce poaching in Africa,” said Knights.

The international ivory trade was banned in 1989, but China has seized more than 40 tons and held a stockpile it releases to licensed carving factories. These products are then sold throughout the country. It is this action that conservation groups insist supports black market ivory trading and elephant poaching.

Related: Prince William encourages Buckingham Palace to destroy all 1,200 pieces of ivory in the royal collection

Phasing out domestic ivory was part of a plan outlined by Zhao. This plan also includes more policing of the illegal wildlife trade as well as more efforts to decrease consumer demand for ivory through public education campaigns. This proposed measure comes just two months before trade talks between China and the United States, both of which are two of the world’s biggest markets for illegal ivory.

In the meantime, China is destroying stockpiles in public support of banning the ivory trade, even though some conservationists disagree with this type of show. Destroying the stockpiles only drives the prices of the ivory still available up and could potentially encourage more poaching.

Via The Guardian

Images via James Morgan