Elephant in South Africa.
China authorities destroyed 6.1 tons of illegal ivory during a public event held in Guangzhou on Monday.
The ivory was part of a stockpile of product that had been seized during raids and customs confiscations. While the crush represents only a fraction of China’s ivory, the action was immediately welcomed by environmentalists and conservation groups as a potential turning point in the crusade to stop the slaughter of elephants for their tusks.
“We congratulate China’s government for showing the world that elephant poaching and illegal ivory consumption is unacceptable,” said Cristián Samper, the President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which is in the midst of a high-profile campaign against the ivory trade. “We are hopeful that this gesture shows that we can win the war against poaching and that elephants will once again flourish.”
“Today’s ivory crush is a significant step in raising public awareness and will hopefully lead to similar events throughout China,” said Yao Ming, the retired NBA great who is involved in WildAid’s campaign to raise awareness among Chinese consumers about the impact of the ivory trade.
“Excess demand for ivory is the root of the elephant poaching crisis. All other efforts to stop the killing of elephants will be useless if the world doesn’t stop buying ivory. China’s leadership could save Africa’s elephants,” added Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, CEO of Save the Elephants, in a statement.
“This is a potentially game-changing development for elephants, and an indicator of a new resolve from the government of China to crack down on illegal killing of wildlife. With both China and the United States – the two largest ivory-consuming countries – taking very public actions against the ivory trade, we hope that the plans of elephant poachers are upended in a dramatic way,” added Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, alluding to the U.S. government’s destruction of 5.4 metric tons of contraband ivory in November.
Elephants in Namibia.
Elephant advocates hope that China’s action is but a taste of more to come.
“As the largest ivory market in the world, China has a significant role to play in combatting the illegal trade in ivory,” said African Wildlife Foundation CEO Patrick Bergin. “We commend the Chinese government for taking this important first step and hope it signals their sincere and growing commitment to help end the elephant slaughter in Africa.”
“If China were to destroy the remainder of its ivory stocks and lead the world by committing not to buying ivory in the future, it would have a transformative, positive impact on the survival of African elephants,” said Samper.
More than 50,000 elephants are thought to have been killed for the ivory trade since the beginning of 2011.
China is the largest market for ivory, but recently there have been some encouraging signs that awareness among Chinese consumers on wildlife trade issues may be growing. For example, in October a survey commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) found that two thirds of Chinese would not buy ivory once informed that it involves elephant killing. In November, an ivory poaching story published in Southern Weekly, a prominent newspaper, went viral on social media in China, being sharing more than 10 million times. The story received wide play outside traditional environmental news outlets in the country. And in December, the Community Party’s Central Committee and the State Council banned wildlife products from being served at official state banquets.