by Cheyenne Johnson, Managing Editor
The cost of ivory has dropped 75% since China began enforcing its nation-wide ban on the ivory trade in January. Long considered the largest consumer of both legal and illegal ivory, China aimed to upend the trade when it declared all ivory trade illegal.
“We are delighted to see the doors of the world's largest ivory market close,” said WildlifeDirect CEO Paula Kahumbu “because poaching had climbed from a few thousand elephants a year to 33,000, one every 15 minutes, before the ban by China which at the peak of the trade accounted for up to 70 per cent of the total world market.”
The illegal wildlife trade has played a significant role in the severe decline of elephant populations around the world. In Asian markets, the ivory taken from these animals is often carved into intricate trinkets, chopsticks, furniture inlays, and other items.
China’s most recent ban was not its first attempt to reign in the ivory trade. This newest policy seeks to close a loophole in the the country’s international ivory trade ban which still allowed trade and sale in ivory within China’s borders. This gap in coverage encouraged poachers to develop new ways to sneak illegally obtained ivory into the legal market and sparked fears of continued trafficking amongst conservationists.
Under the new rule, all of China’s ivory retail outlets will close by the end of the year, and the country’s ivory factories were shut down March of 2017. The new rule coupled with the slowing Chinese economy has forced some out of the market entirely, but fears remain about what will happen if the price begins to rise.
“If they have any sense they won’t want to trade if the prices are dropping like that,” said Save the Elephants researcher Lucy Vigne. “Punishment is the biggest deterrent. That’s what has to be focused, so the illegal markets will slowly become marginalized.”
Ultimately, the enforcement or lack thereof of this policy will determine whether it’s a success or another failed attempt in protecting the world's elephant populations.