This Thursday, China—the worlds biggest importer of smuggled elephant tusks—imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports. This sounds like good news for Africa's elephant population, right? It's not.
First, an explanation of China's new ivory import ban, via the Associated Press:
In an explanatory news report, an unnamed forestry official told the state-run Legal Evening News that authorities hope the ban would be a concrete step to reduce the demand for African tusks and to protect wild elephants. The official said the temporary ban would allow authorities to evaluate its effect on elephant protection before they can take further, more effective steps.
A report by Save the Elephants released late last year showed China's illegal ivory trade to be "escalating out of control," with the wholesale price of elephant tusks tripling between 2010 and 2014. According to BBC (emphasis mine):
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) banned the ivory trade in 1989, but China is allowed to trade domestically and has around 150 licensed shops. Six years ago, the government was also given permission to import one consignment of more than 60 tonnes of ivory from Africa. Conservationists say this has fueled demand and has led to an underground trade, with criminal gangs slaughtering elephants for Asian markets.
The increasing demand for ivory has been catastrophic. Poachers killed 100,000 African elephants for their tusks in just three years (2011-2014), with the regional elephant population of central Africa declining by 64 percent in a single decade. The UN released a report in November which noted that the killing of African elephants is at "critically high levels," and could potentially lead to their extinction in as little as 10 years.
Before Thursday's announcement, according to the New York Times, "Chinese were permitted to import ivory acquired through legal trophy hunting, and limited personal amounts of carved ivory obtained after 1975 from Zimbabwe and Namibia." Unfortunately, conservationists are skeptical that the ban will have any significant impact while the domestic ivory trade in China—which is the real problem—continues unabated.
According to the New York Times: "Because the temporary ban prohibits only the import of ivory carvings, it does not affect China's legal domestic ivory trade, which has prompted an increase in the price of ivory and provides legal camouflage for a booming trade in illicit ivory smuggled into China's licensed carving factories and stores." In fact, conservationists told the Times, China's yearlong ban could be nothing more than a political stunt:
They fear that the Chinese government, which has openly called for relaxing international ivory trade limits, will use the yearlong moratorium as an excuse to say a ban failed to stop poaching and then call for the reopening of the international trade in ivory at the next major Cites conference, to be held in 2016.
The ban was implemented just in time for next week's visit from Prince William, an outspoken critic of the ivory trade. Let's hope Britain (and the rest of the world) isn't mollified by this bullshit.
And for a visual refresher on the ivory trade and its ties to the international terrorist community, here's Kathryn Bigelow's stunning short film that debuted back in December (check out the website to learn more):
Image via Associated Press