Monday, March 2, 2015

China Halts Imports of Africa's Carved Ivory for One Year

An elephant tusk carved with figures

China recently announced that it has placed a one-year suspension on imports of Africa's carved ivory products, but conservationists indicated that this move would do nothing in itself to curb the illicit ivory trade in the country that is inciting excessive poaching of elephants in Africa. The decision came just before the arrival of Prince William next week, who is a prominent figure in the international campaign to save elephants. It also came days after conservation groups sent a letter to the government of China demanding a complete ban on domestic ivory trade. Late Thursday, the State Forestry Administration (SFA) declared that it would discontinue the import of Africa's ivory carvings acquired since the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) came into effect in 1975. That following year, African elephants were listed under the convention. According to one SFA official, the brief suspension was established to provide authorities with time to assess its effectiveness and probably take more efficient measurements in the future. However, experts stated that the movement would only apply to very restricted amounts of ivory and failed to focus on a prohibition of the legal Chinese domestic ivory trade that gives cover for a larger illegal trade. Among the people who criticized China's move included Humane Society International's wildlife program manager Iris Ho, who is also one of the co-signatories of the letter sent to the Chinese government. She called the announcement "an encouraging signal that the Chinese government is ratcheting down the import of African elephant ivory into the country." At the same time, she added saying that China and other countries should "permanently ban the domestic trade of ivory and destroy all confiscated ivory stockpiles." In addition, Grace Ge Gabriel of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), called the move promising but "far from sufficient." Conservationists proclaimed that the only to end the illegal trade of ivory is to ban the legal trade, enlighten people about the actual cost of ivory, and minimize its status value. Ms. Ho called the ongoing registration scheme "a flagrant loophole for illicit ivory to be laundered into the legal market." China, on the other hand, argued that ivory carving is part of its ancient cultural heritage and that it is making aggressive efforts to end the smuggling of ivory. Last year, China destroyed six tons of ivory tusks and carved ornaments confiscated from smugglers marking a symbolic move in the battle to end the illicit ivory trade. Similarly, Hong Kong destroyed a stockpile of 28 tons of ivory.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge recently arrived in China as part of the global effort to end the illegal trade of ivory. 

The move China made is not sufficient enough in the battle against the illegal ivory trade. While it may have been applauded by some people like Julius Cheptei, assistant director for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), conservation groups still feel that more needs to be done. The most crucial tactic China needs to employ is placing a permanent ban on the legal trade of ivory which provides cover to the illegal trade of ivory. In addition, the country needs to educate the public about the real cost of ivory and reduce its status value. Although ivory carving has been part of China's cultural heritage, the rules and regulations of this controversial practice are widely disregarded. The rules dictate that the country's 36 officially sanctioned workshops are supposed to primarily use ivory bought in 2008 when restricted sales from existent international stockpiles were permitted. In addition, all ivory sold commercially was supposed to carry a license confirming it originated from those stockpiles or predated the international ban. However, these rules have been put aside to enable the flow of huge quantities of poached ivory into China every year. This is why it is extremely crucial to demand a complete ban on the legal trade of ivory in order to target the illegal trade of ivory. This brutal, yet lucrative practice is not just threatening to wipe off countless numbers of elephants but financing international criminal syndicates and terrorist organizations which puts the public in jeopardy.

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