China's ivory trade ban is now in effect, making it illegal to sell and buy ivory in the country.


China, one of the world's largest markets for both legal and illegal ivory, has been a major driver of elephant poaching in Africa. Last year, the Chinese government announced its commitment to shut down its legal, domestic ivory markets by the end of 2017. By March 3, about 67 ivory carving factories and shops had been closed, according to Xinhua News. The remaining markets and factories are said to have been shut by Dec. 31, 2017.

Conservationists have welcomed this ban.

"Decades from now, we may point back to this as one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation," Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement. "China has followed through on a great promise it made to the world, offering hope for the future of elephants."

Raising awareness about the ban and reducing demand for ivory, however, is critical for the ban to work, conservationists say. In a recent survey, WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, found that only 19 percent of the people interviewed in mainland China had heard of the ivory ban. But on learning about the ban, 86 percent of the people surveyed said they would support it.

The ivory ban has also received support from celebrities like NBA star Yao Ming. In 2012, conservation groups WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants, together with Yao Ming, launched a large public awareness campaign to highlight how the demand for ivory was fueling elephant poaching in Africa.

"We can start 2018 hopeful that elephants will be safer now that China has banned commercial ivory sales," WildAid CEO Peter Knights said in a statement. "Prices are down and law enforcement efforts in many parts of Africa and Asia are much improved."

The ivory ban alone, however, won't end the poaching of elephants, Hemley said. "It's equally critical that China's neighbors follow suit and shut down ivory markets across Asia. Only then can we ensure the open trade doesn't simply shift to other countries and offer traffickers safe channels for newly-poached ivory."

"The fate of Africa's elephants depends on global rejection of ivory trade, and governments hold the key to driving this," Hemley added.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.